Some say that he has two left hands, and his nose can tell when it will rain. All we know is that he's called DFM.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Tall One, The Short One, and The Other One

For those of you who don't know, the British television program Top Gear is one of the most watched programs in the World. It is liscenced in 117 countries and is watched by over a billion people each week. That means 1/7 of the World's population watches one show.

The basic premise of the show is that its three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson ("the tall one"), Richard Hammond ("the short one") and James May ("the other one") perform outrageous stunts with cars and make fun of each other. Some past stunts include driving a car up a mountain, launching a car into space, dropping a car off of a demolished sky scraper, and converting a car into an amphibious vehicle and driving it across the English Channel. But it's not just the type of stunts the presenters perform, but the way in which they do them that makes this show so special.

Jeremy Clarkson is perhaps one of the most politically incorrect television presenters in the World, and because of this Top Gear has been accused of being homophobic, xenophobic, bigoted, and just about any other criticism one can throw at it. One thing it is not though, is boring.

Until now the best way to watch Top Gear episodes was to download each episode (Top Gear is also the most pirated show in the World). All this has changed now. My brothers recently introduced me to a fantastic site called At you can watch every single episode of Top Gear in a high quality, high speed streaming format. But that's not all. The three presenters have also hosted other equally impressive shows and you can watch every episode of those at Hessmo as well.

Since is perhaps the World's greatest website and completely free, please support it by clicking on a few of its links if you enjoyed any of the videos. is doing the World a great service and a few seconds of inconvenience on your part can help ensure that everyone benefits from its continued existence.
(Don't let this happen to you, watch Top Gear.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Yes, Your Butt Does Look Fat In Those Jeans

My dad is fond of saying that men don't look good in dresses. I disagree. That's not to say that I think men should wear dresses, or that when they do that they look good, rather I mean to say that I do not feel convinced that a man cannot look good in a dress (if he had the right dress).

The problem as I see it is that when men in North America do wear a dress, they are usually embarrassed about the obvious breach of Western gender norms. Subsequently, these men will pick the frilliest, puffiest dress with the gaudiest shoes and make-up, and choose the most exagerated effeminate walk they can think of. By doing so, these men have turned themselves into a feminine characature, and thus have freed themselves from the social consequences of cross-dressing (fat people have made jokes about themselves to deflect criticism for ages, and really these cross dressing men are just doing the same thing).

I'm not surprised that my dad feels these men do not look good in the dresses they choose, but I disagree with the insinuation that it has something to do the sex of the people wearing the dresses. The reason these men do not look good in their dresses is because the dresses do no look good... on anyone.

I hate dresses, and so as a general rule I try to avoid places where women will likely wear them. This means that I did not attend my own prom, and the last time I saw a large number of females in dresses was my junior high commencement. I do however remember clearly that at this commencement only one girl was wearing a dress that looked good on her. Considering there were seven grade nine classes that year, with at least 25 students in each class, this was not a good average. Of those 175 girls in ugly dresses, how many of them were told they looked "really pretty?" Probably all of them.

The reason for this censoring of the truth, is because the girls in ugly dresses had gone out of their way to appear more feminine, and for some reason it is assumed that to be feminine is to be pretty. This is not the case. To look feminine is to quite often look like crap. Most men could save women a lot of future pain and embarrassment if they just told them so, but most men will not tell women this simple truth because this would require them to question the infallability of the current gender norms. The current gender norms represent the "natural order of things," and to question the natural order of things is tantamount to proclaiming oneself gay.

So, in conclusion, if any women out there are having trouble "finding a good man," it's because you're chasing after men who compliment you when you try to look feminine. Do yourself a favour and look for a man who tells you that your dress looks like crap, and that yes, your butt does look fat in those jeans, for this is a man who loves you enough to be honest. You can thank me on your 50th wedding anniversary.

(Oh my God, that is the ugliest dress I've ever... oh, you're a woman in dress, my mistake, you look sooooo pretty, omg lol!!!!!!!).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

DFM Does It Again! Life's Greatest Mystery Solved

Until I saw Jenna Fischer being interviewed on Jay Leno, I thought it was impossible for women to be funny (seriously, check her out in any talk show interview, she's always funny). I remember seeing her on a rerun whilst traveling in Scotland. When I finished the interview I went and had a cry in the bathroom because I thought my whole life had been a lie. "Have I been wrong this whole time?" I thought to myself, "are women actually funny?" But after I pulled myself together and recovered from the original shock, I realized that no, women in general are indeed not funny, but a few women (like Fischer and SNL actor, Kristen Wiig) can be. The question still remained though, "why are there so few funny women?" To answer the question I set off on a quest of epic proportions. I checked over at least half of the female comics on The Comedy Network's website (the sorry excuse for Comedy Central us Canadians are forced to live with). It took me five days and I will now report my findings.

The majority of the female comics I viewed were not funny. Their jokes could have been funny but were poorly written. I watched the routines of 50 women (I know, taking one for the team, I'm a trooper), and I can only honestly call 4 of these women's routines truly funny. My friend told me that the main reason women aren't funny is that they tend to stick "jokes" related to their societal gender roles - shopping for shoes, dieting, being on their periods - and it's true. The vast majority of the female comics I surveyed had jokes on shopping, dieiting, or otherwise being a bitch. At first I felt that this must be the reason (and to be certain it still is a reason) that women aren't funny, but then I saw a routine by Pat Brown and I was back at square one.

In the routine I watched, Pat Brown talked about her period, getting pregnant to trap a guy into paying child support, shopping, and how hard it is to find a man, all in the span of a minute and a half. Now, as anyone who has seen any female comic knows, there is nothing noteworthy about this. What makes her feat so incredible is that she actually manages to be funny while doing it. At first I thought I must have misheard her (you know, because of the laughing and all), so I watched it again, and then later I watched it again. Every time it was funny, how could this be?

I have seen female comedians make what should have been very funny jokes (I instantly recognized the wit involved in creating them), but still they elicited no laughs from my throat. So what made Pat Brown special? I went and searched out some more Pat Brown sketches on YouTube, and it was here that I found the secret to life's greatest mystery.

I watched two versions of the same Pat Brown joke. One version was typically unfunny in that way of being unfunny that female comedians are so good at being, but the second version was uproariously funny. What was the difference? Delivery and confidence. Rather than merely getting excited and shrieking out her jokes in a high-pitched, shrill squeel (i.e., be a female comedian), she had what I've heard others describe as "pressence" (actually, I don't know if she had pressence or what that even means, but I needed to wrap up this paragraph and get to the next part).

In the first version Pat Brown was dolled up like a woman and stood in the middle of the stage clutching her mic nervously, while she dragged her feet through the joke. In the second version she was bobbing and weaving and dipping and diving her way across the stage, back and forth. In fact she was working the stage just like Chris Rock or Jamie Foxx (she even sounded a little like Chris Rock). She also hadn't really bothered to fit herself out in the trappings of femininity like every other unfunny female comedian does (you're doing comedy, you're not out on a date), which took the emphases off her appearance, and allowed the audience to concentrate on her jokes (I'm also certain it allowed her to concentrate on her jokes more as well).

After discovering this key (I'm still talking about the delivery), I then went and compared various male routines. As with the the females there were many unfunny male comedians. The big difference between the comics that make your gut hurt from laughing and those who make your head hurt from smacking it, is that A-list comedians like Jimmy Carr, Jeff Foxworthy (I like him and I'm not ashamed to admit it) or Chris Rock have a comedic persona which they play up on in their acts. This persona has been fine-tuned over years of practice and enhances the comedic delivery of the owner's jokes. A well practiced male comedian can take even the basic of fart jokes and make it high class.

That brings me to the most polished female comedian I could find, Carla Collins. Although I don't consider myself an expert on writing stand-up comedy, Collins managed to nail it. I won't even bother to explain it, just click on the link (her name), and enjoy. The amazing thing is that she doesn't have a funny voice, she wears a flashy outift, and she doesn't move around. She breaks every stand-up comedy rule I have, but still manages to make me laugh... out loud... a lot. I hope Satan has a parka.

Do Scousers Speak Engrish?

I was watching some sketches from a top-notch British comedy show by Harry Enfield. There is a group of recurring characters on Harry's show called The Scousers. At first I was unaware of the term Scouser, but after some light research I found it to mean a person from Liverpool. In fact, it turns out that nearly all people North of London are made fun of for not being from London. In my searches though, I found a site which contains samples of all significant British dialects. I've included a link to it, because I thought some proactive thinkers amongst my readers may want to practice their Engrish listening skills. Simply click on one of the stick figures to hear a sample of that region's distinctly non-North American accent. With some practice, you should be well on your way to ordering a submarine sandwich.

("Youse wanna fight, eh?")

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why Do My Posters Hate Canada?

Perhaps no greater problem has existed in my life than how to get my posters to lie flat against the wall when I tack them up? Although I don't collect posters per se, I have attended many events at which posters were thrust into my reluctant arms. Not wanting to waste good paper I have dutifully adorned the walls in my bedroom with a number of images that say little about me. One reason I hate posters so much is that I can never get them to lie flat against the wall, and subsequently I constantly catch my fingers/shirt/soul on the edges which results in their being ripped (see below).

While this may not be such a big deal in times of peace, we are in fact not at peace, we are at war. Like many good Canadians I have an unreadable 11 X 8 print of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms tacked up in an inaccessible corner of my room above my VHS collection (including the pilot of Knight Rider: "Michael, I took the liberty of scanning our social situation and it turns out we're at war.")
As you can clearly see from the above photos, despite my best efforts the paper will just not lie flat against the wall. For the present time it's not too desperate of a situation, but if my copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ever gets ripped like my other posters, how will I know which Rights and Freedoms to take for granted anymore?
We're at war; we shouldn't be paying attention to Rights and Freedoms, we should be blindly following whatever our governments say. Poster of Rights and Freedoms, you've made me take notice of you, why do you hate Canada?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

DFM Plays Recession Limbo

I was laughed at when I quit my Engineering to be a teacher in the middle of an economic boom. I was laughed at for not buying a house at 23. I was laughed at for not buying a car (or three), and instead riding a second-hand bike everywhere. But who's laughing now? DFM, that's who! I have no debt, and the housing prices are falling.

In fact, as far as I'm concerned housing prices can't fall far enough. While the prices have been soaring for the last number of years, now the housing markets are becoming saturated. It's a buyers market, and in a couple of years I'll be ready to buy (as soon as the prices bottom out). Also, that car you bought but now have to sell so you can make your mortgage... that's going to be mine. I gambled big, and it paid off. Yes! I rule!

But look on the bright side, it isn't all bad for you. Now all those much needed road repairs can be done when the government creates some make work projects to boost public morale. And remember all those doom and gloomers who claimed that this would be the first generation of youngsters to have a worse life than their parents? Well, good news! Now that we're in the "worst recession in 70 years" you're children can't help but have a better life. Corporate/fiscal irresponsibility will be curtailed and we'll have another 40 years or so before another big recession hits (when your grand kids decide that they don't to study history because it's boring).

Do I sound like a jerk? I'm certain I do. But there's not a lot of opportunity for teachers to be smug. I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.

(Good thing I'm a teacher, or else I would have been hit by that Recession Truck.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Judd Apatow, Why Are You So Awesome?

I admit, I laughed at American Pie 2... but then Band Camp came out and I wondered "what happened to the R-Rated comedy?" But thankfully Judd Apatow grabbed the genre by the yarbles with The 40 Year Old Virgin. This movie saved the R-Rated Comedy from certain death, and every year since Apatow has written and directed another brilliant movie. But before Apatow saved the movies, he dominated TV.

Apatow's best television show in my opinion was "Freaks and Geeks." The tag line for the show was "It's 1980 and this is what high school was like for the rest of us." If you need any more convincing of its greatness, consider that Billy Joel was such a fan of the show he allowed two of his songs to be used in an episode. Hitherto he had refused to allow these songs to be used in any movie or TV show. Or consider that if you do not watch this show you will never again see James Franco (Harry Osborn from the Spider Man franchise) playing Dungeons and Dragons on camera.

Unfortunately, Judd Apatow has always been ahead of his time. This show was canceled after only 18 episodes because it was just too awesome. But now the World has caught up and you can see this masterpiece of the small screen on DVD. I suggest you do.

(Come get some.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

White Athlete History Day

Although Hank Hill would disapprove heartily, I think defining oneself as a sports fan/football fan/Yankees fan, etc. is asinine (in much the way as defining a country as a "nation of beer drinkers" is asinine). Spending an entire Sunday watching football is a great way to ruin your marriage, and that's not cool.

I do, however, enjoy playing sports, and from time to time I also enjoy watching great athletes play sports in a dazzling fashion. Unfortunately, for too long young white boys have not had a lot of sports heroes to inspire them. Perhaps it's because white men are too busy running the world to practice their ball-handling skills, but for whatever the reasons everyone knows that the white guys are mostly there for show (except in Boston where they're also there to keep the fans appeased so that they won't lynch the black players). So to address this disparity, DFM has decided to declare February 7th "White Athlete History Day," in honour of great White sports stars past and present.

Before I start I should explain that I will be capitalizing the word "White" to denote White players from white players. White players (capitalized) refers to small, slow, and/or underappreciated players regardless of colour, although typically white. White players (non-capitalized) would merely mean players whose skin is white, but who are not necessarily White. Now that we have that straightened out I will begin.

The following list is in no particular order, but categorized by sport.

  1. Matt Le Tissier. You've probably never heard of Matt Le Tissier, and that's not surprising. Matt Le Tissier is quite possibly the Whitest superstar in history. He plays football (with his feet, go figure) in England. Unlike Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Ronald McDonald, or whatever other variations the Brazilians can come up with, Matt Le Tissier does not waste every one's time by doing a polka on the ball before not scoring. Rather, Le Tissier is as slow as you'd expect him to be so he doesn't like to take many steps. He generally spends the majority of his time kicking the ball into the net from half a field away. To check out a short video on Matt Le Tissier click here.
  2. Johan Cruijff (Cryuff). This dutch footballer is quite possibly the Whitest dribbler in the history of the game. Again, unlike Ronaldinho and co., Cryuff's dribbling compilation videos feature him traveling at full speed towards the net in an attempt to get a goal. Watch the following montage and be amazed.
  3. Doug Flutie. This guy is so White that no one has yet to make a YouTube montage for him. However, he is one of the most valuable players in the history of football (played with the hands). After the excitement surrounding his great Flutie Bomb at Boston College, Flutie was quickly snubbed by the NFL for being too short. Even though he won the Heisman Trophy for the NCAA's top player, Flutie was only selected 285th (the lowest selection ever for a Heisman Trophy winner). Like all White people, Flutie then threatened to move to Canada. However, unlike many White people, he actually did. After winning the CFL's Player of the Year Award 6 times (in 7 seasons), Flutie returned to America to make the NFL his bitch. He won the Comeback Player of the Year Award and then the next season was selected to the Pro Bowl (All-Star Game). But despite this, his coaches decided to cut him for the tall, white (but not White), incompetent Rob Johnson. However, all these awards are not what make Doug Flutie a great White superstar. What makes Flutie so White-tacular is that he somehow managed to play quarterback and not be, as my friend Dave Zee would say, "a Sally." He ran for touchdowns, lead blocked, won games, and also managed to drop-kick for a field goal (the first drop kick in the NFL in 64 years). Doug Flutie, this cracker's for you! To read more about the great Doug Flutie, click here.
  4. Chris Carter. Chris Carter is an honorary White person. The poor guy had to play alongside that tool Randy Moss for years. Even though he was slow and short, Chris Carter ran the best passing routes ever, and you could always count on him to get open. Chris Carter is an inspiration.
  5. Ryan Smyth. You might think it a paradox to have a White superstar in hockey (where pretty much everyone is white). But this is not so. There are still underrated players who need to be recognized for their Whiteness. Ryan Smyth was a gritty power forward for the Edmonton Oilers for his entire career until he was traded. He could score goals, but more often than not he preferred to drag over two defenders so that one of his teammates could get open and score. Apparently his worth was catastrophically underestimated, because after he was traded the Oilers only won 2 of their remaining 19 games that season.
  6. Ron Francis. This great White guy had to play in the shadow of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr for years. Nobody cared about him, but when he was injured the Penguins lost a truck load of games. Furthermore, Francis was a great defensive minded forward (a true White person characteristic).
  7. Larry Bird. It's tough to call Larry Bird underrated, but he was definitely slow and ugly. That Bird was one of the greatest passers in the game is not surprising given his Whiteness. Watch this video here to see what all the Great White Hype is about.
  8. Steve Nash. Sorry John Stockton, but I'm only picking two from each sport. Steve Nash has shown the World what White boys have known for decades: passing is cool. A woman once told me that Vin Diesel was sexy because he "chose" to be bald. Likewise, Steve Nash can dribble circles around anyone he wants and make a lay-up whenever he fancies (48 points in a play-off game!), but he chooses to pass, and that makes him cool (and a 2-time NBA MVP). To feel his White hot skills, click here.
There you have it, the first 8 inductees into DFM's White Athlete Hall of Fame. Now get out there and be White!

An Apple A Day II

On January 23 I wrote a post about Apple computers and why I thought they were a waste of money. Today a friend forwarded me a link to a very funny video from The Onion. I think the astute reader can make the connection for him- or herself.

Hank Hill Wants You... To Be The Tough Boss

Recently I read a hilarious article on The Onion's website entitled Incompetent Staff Feels Underappreciated. The gist of this article is that a group of office staffers who are chronic under performers, spend a large amount of their time complaining about how the company does not thank them for how hard they work to make up for all the time they wasted. When the "journalist" questions their employer, the president responds "I wish I could just fire the entire staff for being so incompetent, but between going on vacation and running around trying to buy a second home, I'm really only in the office a couple of days a year." Despite The Onion being a "fake news" source, there is more than a shred of truth to this joke.

I recently "retired" from my part-time job this month because I am moving. While at the job I was constantly amazed at how the company continued to perform as well as it did. The staff was underpaid and there was no incentive program to speak of. So why then were there few instances of employees wasting large amounts of time? Answer: Constant management and supervision. The two managers on staff frequently checked up on employees to ensure that the were on task and performing their jobs properly. The effect of this was that everyone felt the job was somehow important, even though the wages did not reflect it.

In a seemingly unrelated incident, I was having a conversation recently with a high school student, who happened to be my coworker, about an assignment that each of us had completed (obviously not in the same class or at the same time). The assignment was to keep a food journal - a description of everything you've eaten over a period of time. I was shocked to hear that she felt the exercise was a waste of time, since I felt it was one of the single most important assignments I had ever completed (i.e., I learned a great deal from completing it). Upon further questioning I realized a key difference in the assignments.

Whereas I was required to record the foods that I ate, their caloric content, the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates they contained, the amount of fibre they contained, the amount of vitamin A and C they contained and compare this to my RDI (Recommended Daily Intake), my coworker was merely required to write down the foods she ate for each meal. Perhaps then it is no surprise that she felt the assignment held no real value and started to make up foods rather than actually record what she ate. She felt the exercise lacked value, because she was given an assignment that required little to no effort to complete. Consequently she was not willing to put the work into completing it properly. Teachers, parents, and supervisors constantly try to combat poor moral by lessening expectations and it just does not work. High expectations make the recipients of demands feel as though their time is valued.

We are living in a world in which discipline is viewed as something evil. Many parents don't want to scold their children because it makes them feel "mean." Many teachers don't want to fail their students because then the student's feelings will be hurt (plus they'll feel "mean"). Passengers on a bus don't want to scold teenagers for being loud and obnoxious because the teenagers might laugh at them. The list goes on and on. All of these fears are perhaps natural, but not at all conducive to attaining positive results. Like my managers, sometimes the people who are responsible need to yell and scream and otherwise get in the faces of those who aren't. You might be called a "horrible oppressor" if you try this, but as Hank Hill says "you're the boss, you have to do whatever it takes to get the job done."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Does Your Beer Taste Like Crap? That's Because It's Beer

"Everyone is special." This is a saying that bleeding hearts are fond of repeating to anyone who will listen. The truth is, it's not true. Some people are very normal and are not special at all, and this is alright. What's not alright is when people who are not special go around telling others that they are.

Molson Canadian (a popular Canadian beer company) made an advertisement some time ago that featured an angry Canadian named "Joe," standing on a stage in front of a movie screen, ranting about all the things that made him not-American. This seemingly innocuous attempt to sell beer was the start of a string of asinine ads that have since ruined Canadian television. Most notable to me was one particular ad which attempted to sum up what Canada was all aboot (I mean about) with a series of statements about Canada. One of the characteristics listed was that Canada is “a nation of beer drinkers.”

When I first heard this statement I was rather shocked. I was not shocked because we drink beer, but that drinking alcohol could be considered a characteristic of a country. To be a defining characteristic, capable of enabling others to find Canadians in a crowd of people at an airport or some other crowded place, you’d think that drinking a lot of alcohol would have to be something special and unique to people from Canada. But what about Germany? They have Oktoberfest. And Ireland? Are not the Irish known as heavy drinkers? When I visited Scotland this summer I was encouraged by the government to visit the famous whiskey distilleries, and a customs agent at the Amsterdam airport was shocked when I told him I had not drank any Scottish whiskey while I was there. The Aussies are always bragging about how much beer they can drink with one hand whilst fighting with the other, and don’t forget the Russians and their vodka. It seems that many countries claim to be heavy drinkers. Since it’s so common how can it be special?

More importantly, beer tastes like crap… literally. I’ve tasted crap before, and it doesn’t taste good. In fact, it tastes a lot like beer, but I’ve not heard anyone bragging lately about how much crap they eat. Nor have I seen anyone take a petrified piece of feces, swirl it around under his nose, nibble off a piece at the end and exclaim how great a year 1972 was for crap. So, why is everyone so excited to consume the foul tasting liver destroyer when it’s in liquid form? Since I can’t answer that question I’ll ignore the fact that alcohol in general makes me want to vomit at first smell, let alone taste. Instead, I will look more deeply into this claim of Canada as a great nation of beer drinkers.

In 2007 Forbes magazine ran an online article on the world’s heaviest alcohol consuming nations according to an independent study. Number one on the list was not Ireland, not Germany, not Canada. The hardest drinking nation on earth (defined by Litres of alcohol consumed per capita) was Luxembourg, which probably explains why you always hear about the nation of Luxembourg running its mouth and getting into fights at weddings. Second place went to those “cheese eating surrender monkeys,” the French. In fact neither Canada or America made the top-15. The only non-European nation to make the top-15 was Australia in 15th. Now I can hear what you’re thinking. You’re all thinking, “but the French drink wine, we drink beer.” Shall we look at the stats for beer then?

Before I list the results, make sure you place your final bets for the top beer drinking nation in the World. Will it be Ireland? Germany? Australia? America? Canada? The answer is… the Czech Republic. The people of the Czech Republic drink an average of 156.9 litres of beer a year! That is 25 Litres per person more than Ireland, 192% more beer than an American and 230% more beer per person than Canada. Interestingly enough, I recently watched a movie about rock climbing in the Czech Republic. One of the locals, when questioned about how much beer the Czech people consume, said “not a lot-a lot… 8 to 10 beers a day is normal.” There you have it, unlike pathetic Canadians, the people of the beer drinkingest nation on earth down play their alcohol consumption, because they know that drinking crap is nothing to be proud of.

(I Am Canadian! I just drink German beer to be ironic.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Which Came First: The Dumb Kid Or The Dumb Teacher?

I know I've touched on this before, but I just can't let it go. I was reading a book entitled Math Wars by Carmen Latterell. This title is just another in a long list of books trying to figure out why American students are lagging behind the rest of the developed world in math? At the end of the book there is a study quoted that deals with the mathematics knowledge of American elementary math teachers and the knowledge of those from China. I feel that a summary of the results would be enlightening to many.

The researcher asked the two groups of teachers the same math questions. For subtraction questions 100% of American and Chinese math teachers could perform the problems, but only 17% of the American teachers could explain why subtraction worked, whereas 86% of Chinese teachers could. For multiplication questions, again both groups could solve the problems, but only 39% of American teachers could correctly identify why an incorrect algorithm (e.g., a formula for finding the "nth" term of a series) they were shown was indeed wrong, as opposed to 92% of Chinese teachers. With fractions, only 43% of American teachers could perform a computation involving fractions, while once again 100% of Chinese teachers could. Not one single American teacher could then create a word problem to represent the computation, while 100% of the Chinese teachers could. Apparently there were even more tests done, but Latterell decided not to include this data since the results were even more dismal for American teachers.

The interesting part of all this is not that the American teachers could not achieve at the same level, but rather that the American math teachers in the test had taken three times as many math courses in University as the Chinese teachers. The problem? Low standards. In grade five, my math teacher had us memorize up to and including our "10 times tables." He would not allow us to continue on in the unit until we could demonstrate to him that we knew every product off by heart. As a result I can still perform basic multiplication in my head. In contrast, my Language Arts (English to some of you) classes had us do a book report on Mice At Center Ice... twice (once in grade four and again in grade seven), and build "concrete poems." Is it then a coincidence that I did not know what a pronoun or preposition was until I was 22 when I bothered to search the definitions out on my own? How am I supposed to not end my sentences in prepositions if I don't know what a preposition is in the first place? How did I get Bs and As in English for 12 straight years yet not know that I was wanting in the most basic understanding of English grammar? How am I supposed to now teach my own students what was never taught to me?

I do not mean to attack American teachers. My preposition problem was the direct result of the ineffectiveness of the Alberta school system; a school system that is supposed to be one of the best in the world. My blame is directed squarely on the notion that to "keep kids in school" by passing them through and handing them degrees for just showing up is a good idea. As I was explaining to a friend the other day: students usually achieve up to but no higher than their expectations for themselves. I expect great things from myself, and so I will work hard to make my reality match my expectations even when I initially am achieving well below standard. However, a person who only feels he or she is a 50% student will only work hard enough to get a 50%. Teachers can dumb the curriculum down until we are handing out As for twelve-year-olds who can tie their shoes, but it won't matter. The weak students will only tie their shoes correctly 50% of the time. But, raise all the standards and the students will work harder to achieve the 50% they feel they deserve, and in the process will end up knowing more.

I'm not advocating that we make teachers responsible for teaching more information, we've done that already and our graduates are as dumb as ever. I'm advocating for more stringent standards on the information already being taught. Streamline the curriculum and cut out the concrete poetry and other garbage like learning to tell time on a 24 hour clock. Then, demand more perfection on the remaining concepts.

For example, in high school math in Alberta, the students are required at the beginning of grade ten to buy $100+ calculators that have the ability to graph functions. Then, in their final year of high school math, these same students are told that by using the "log" button present on a $9 Wal-Mart special calculator they could have solved any complex problem (ex. 2^x = 83.5, solve for 'x') that they were using their graphing calculators for. What a joke!

I'll end this now before I go ranting all night. My final point is that a great majority of teachers' educational woes could be solved if all teachers would demand more perfection from their students. 70% is not good enough. Little Sally and all of her classmates coast along through the elementary grades thinking they're doing alright at math because they aren't "failing." The teacher seems fine with this because Sally isn't as bad as Little Jimmy, who for some reason seems incapable of grasping even the simplest concepts. So, Little Sally sails on through elementary school and then is punched in the face with algebra, trigonometry and statistics in high school. She fails miserably and wonders what happened? "I used to be good at math" she says to herself. No you didn't Sally, you were actually pretty bad, but your teacher couldn't bother to tell you that you lacked the basic skills necessary to succeed at more advanced math since you were achieving more than 50% on his arbitrary grading scale. Don't let Sally get punched in the face anymore. Demand perfection.

Gunner Palace

I recently watched the movie Gunner Palace. It's sort of a documentary by a Seattle-based journalist who spent a year in Iraq with a company of American soldiers. I won't bore you with philosophical talk about whether or not America should have entered Iraq, and I won't insult the soldiers or the Iraqis by saying "it opened my eyes." I'll just give it my strongest recommendation - 5 DFMs - and suggest strongly that you see this movie. Check out the website here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Violence Solves Everything

It seems today that there's a lot of discussion around bullying in schools. The government of Canada even has a website about how to prevent it. The thing is, bullying has been around as long as prostitution so you'd think that we'd have mastered it by now. Our schools haven't, but do not fear because DFM has.

The solution is to teach children how to fight, although the actual act of fighting is not what is important. What really matters is that the child thinks he/she can fight. I was bullied as a nine year old. My dad taught me some kung-fu moves he had learned. I was never bullied again. In fact I never even had to use the moves, my bully just magically disappeared. When I was ten and eleven I used to lose every fight I got myself into. When I was twelve I started watching WWF wrestling. I was ready to sharp shooter the next kid who looked at me wrong. Never got in another fight again. My brother was being bullied recently. I taught him how to box. Problem solved. Notice a trend?

In all three of these situations there was never a punch thrown. The reason it works is that when you feel you can fight, you become more confident. When you're more confident you don't get as bothered by minor issues and you walk a little taller. Bullies stop picking on you because you don't get riled up anymore and you don't look like you're about to cry, so there's no point in wasting their precious bullying time. Furthermore, you look like you wouldn't take it if they did try, so the bullies will go pick on someone who will.

The reason bullying seems so bad now is that there are not enough males teaching. Males tend to understand that a punch to the face isn't a life threatening situation. Most of the females I've known don't even know how to throw a punch let alone what one feels like. If schools really want to stop bullying they just need to set up a "fight club." Every Friday after school, anyone who wants to fight goes to fight club and has it out with giant, over sized gloves and head gear. Nobody gets seriously hurt, everyone gets really tired, and the problem is solved. I used to be an amateur boxer. Boxing is probably the most fun sport in the world, but I don't want to do it every week. Three times a year is fine for me. Plus, the school could charge admission from the other students and really boost its budget.

My dad said that there was a shop teacher in his school who actually did this (the boxing, not the ticket sales). My dad's recollection was that bullying went way down. In my school, a teacher threatened to bring gloves to school so that we could fight out our aggression. She never did. Bullying went up.

(These boys must be well adjusted young adults by now.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pass Me My Giant "We're #1" Foam Finger, Please

The ATP tennis season starts on January 3rd and does not end until December 6th this year. Presumably the 2010 season will start the first week of January again, giving the players all of one month off between seasons. While this is may be longest professional sports season in terms of total number of weeks from start to finish, at least the players get to choose which tournaments they enter (to some extent). The professional hockey season starts its preseason in September and does not end its playoffs until early June. Hockey in June? Are you kidding me? I have failed to find a professional sport which does not have a season that is far too long, but why?

The simple answer is that it allows the owners to make more from advertising revenue, but I'm not entirely satisfied with that answer. An old instructor I had once told me that when Gorbachev banned vodka he predicted it would be the end of the Soviet Union. His reasoning was that once the proletariat were no longer in a state of constant drunkenness they would start to take an interest in politics. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but the idea of a distracted voting class may explain why democracy rarely feels as though it is.

My theory is that without an excessively long professional sports season, the average voter might start wondering why he's 40 years old, living in the middle of nowhere and working himself into the ground with nothing to show for it. Said voter may start questioning his current situation and perhaps stop mindlessly filling out ballots for the incumbent candidate or, even worse, start voting. Governments in a "democracy" tend to be fairly ineffectual at creating any meaningful change for the better, and the less people think about this fact the better off the government is. Hence, you can see that the government has a large incentive to keep the voters from thinking about their lives.

All joking aside, I don't understand the value of having thousands of people sit on their asses eating popcorn and drinking beer as they watch others run around for them, while North Americans are fatter than they've ever been. Instead of using tax payer's money to build new professional sports arenas (as they are used in some cities), why not use that same money to build more outdoor, public sporting facilities that everyone can enjoy? I guess that's why I'm not a politician.

("Whoo-ee, I love my government!")

Monday, February 2, 2009

Do Women Actually Nurture?

Today I heard reports in the news that the Canadian military has selected a small group of women to be some of the first females to pilot helicopters in combat missions in Afghanistan. Considering the year it made me wonder what could have taken the military so long? The first answer that came to my mind was that perhaps the age old stereotype that women can't drive or that a woman will crack under pressure was a factor. I have personally known young women learning to drive, that when faced with turning left at a busy intersection have resorted to taking their hands off the wheel and covering their eyes. However, I can also name some women who are as skilled or more skilled at high performance driving than almost any man (do yourself a favour and 'Google' "Sabine Schmitz"). Furthermore, I know far more males who are downright awful at driving and make me scared to even enter vehicles with them. What's the point of all this? Nothing. I cannot come to a conclusion that is not already obvious (e.g., stereotypes are often wrong), but the whole exercise has reminded me of something else that happened today.

A friend and I were discussing the issue of why a judge would grant custody of children to the mother, even if she did not have a job (it has happened). The obvious answer would seem to be that mothers are assumed to be naturally more nurturing and that this will ultimately prove to be more valuable for the children (men are only viewed as dollar signs by the courts anyways). It's hard to argue that on average women seem far more practiced and capable of coddling children (or at least my personal experience tells me so), but does all this "nurturing" produce a desired result? My personal experience working with children alongside teenaged girls tells me "no" (and the process of said "nurturing" was also very annoying for me to witness).

In a speech to the Yale University Child Development Center in 1988, Fred Rogers (yes, that Fred Rogers) described how it was in fact the men in his life who were the most memorable nurturers. One of his stories involved him walking along on a stone fence at his grandfather's farm. His mother and grandmother would frequently try to "rescue" him from certain death, but his grandfather would stop them saying "Let the kid walk on the wall. He’s got to learn to do things for himself.” Mr. Rogers goes on to infer that this response helped him develop trust in his own abilities. Is this result not a favourable one?

It has also been suggested that on average fathers are less likely to accept excuses from their children and are more firm disciplinarians (i.e., they can say "no"). I can recount numerous occasions when, as a youngster, I was able to argue my way into having my mother buy me a chocolate bar at the grocery store or some small toy. The result was that I developed a body shape that took sixteen years to make "fit," and that I we had a basement full of plastic, broken cars and army men I played with only once. One time I even managed to whine my way into having my mother give me all of my birthday presents on the day before my birthday. Needless to say, it was the worst birthday ever. I don't mean to attack my mother, but her weakness in the face of my crying did nothing to develop my personal discipline. Personal discipline in my opinion is the single most important character trait known to man. The results of the famous "marshmallow test" showed that children who were able to resist temptation grew up to be more well adjusted, successful and popular teenagers and young adults. If a parent cannot raise a child to act with personal discipline, can they really be described as truly nurturing?

In conclusion, I would like to point out that I understand there are probably many situations in which custody of the children should rightfully be given to the mother. However, decisions of a custodial nature should be based on a rational review of the two parents involved. When child custody suits are settled on the basis of a myopic, sex-based view of "nurturing" ability this ultimately ends up hurting the children and hurting the country. I urge you to do your civic duty and critically think about what it means to "nurture." The children will thank you.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How To Understand Engrish And Other Incomprehensible Dialects

I recently overheard a woman telling her friends about an all too common situation. The gist of it was that three groups of people from three English speaking countries were all together for some sports tournament. Apparently there was a debate about how best to say a particular word. The debate digressed into the three groups of women yelling at each other to "speak English." To the woman telling the story this seemed very funny, but to me it was very tiresome.

I spend a rather large percentage of my time talking to people with accents. I have Korean friends, English friends, Taiwanese friends, Australian friends, etc. I also spend a great deal of time talking to children and watching British television. All of this has helped me develop an above-average ear for words. This does not mean that I can understand every word perfectly, in fact quite the opposite. I hear the words just as jumbled up as you do, but I have a secret trick. Perhaps because I have forgotten what it was like to not have "the trick" I become annoyed with people who cannot understand the English of people with accents. The secret to understanding "Engrish," or any other form of unclear English, is to guess what the person is going to say before he or she says it. This may sound ridiculous, but it's easier and more effective than you think. I will demonstrate with an example:

The other day I was standing in line at a local Subway fast food restaurant and the "sandwich artists" all happened to be Chinese. The poor exchange students would take the opened sub bun with the meat and cheese on it already, and position it in front of the vegetable containers. Then s/he would look up at the customer and ask "which veggies?" I watched the employees do this over and over again, and each time the response from the customer was always the same. "What?" What do you mean "what?" The bun is in front of the veggies. Veggies go in a submarine sandwich after the meat and cheese. What else could the employee possibly want to know? I thought at first "perhaps it is that customers first time buying a submarine sandwich?" But this became hard to believe after the eighth time I heard someone ask "what?"

This was a basic example but it gives insight into my method of proactive listening. After you master a basic proactive listening exercise like ordering a sandwich, you can gradually move on to more advanced levels of Engrish comprehension. For example, let's say you see a Chinese person on the bus. You hear her speaking to the bus driver and you think "wow, that is some poor English!" She comes over and sits next to you. You decide that you want to be polite and talk to her but don't know how. Try the following:

Think: she can barely get on the bus, but she looks 25, so she's definitely not a grandmother who stayed at home and never left the house for forty years because she couldn't cope in a non-Chinese world. Therefore, she probably has recently moved to whatever city you're in. Ask (after exchanging pleasantries): "are you new to Canada/Seattle/Vancouver, etc.?" The answer is going to be either yes or no, so there's no need to be surprised. You know she's probably new, so guess yes. Now listen for "yes." If the answer sounds remotely close to yes, then take it as yes. If it does not sound like yes, assume she said "no." Let's assume the answer was yes.

Next you notice that she has a backpack on and is getting on the bus near the university. Think: She's probably a student at the university. Ask: "do you go to school at the university?" Listen: "yes" or "no." You suspect yes because she has a bag and is near the school, so listen for "yes." If the answer sounds like yes, assume yes (notice a pattern?)

Think: at university students study subjects usually related to degrees/graduation. Said student is foreign and cannot speak English fluently. She's probably not a Classics major. Math is a subject that involves limited English comprehension. (4X-5)/3 = 19 is the same in Tokyo as it is in Dallas. Hence, foreign students are likely to take courses that are heavy in math, like engineering or business. Ask: "what are you studying?" or "what is your major?" (students for whom English is a not a first language absolutely love the later phrase up for some reason) Listen: "business" or "engineering." If the answer sounds like... you get the picture.

I can go on and on, but the point is that listening requires some thinking. With a bit of effort it is possible to comprehend just about any accent and English speaking person may have. Take stock of your surroundings. Make inferences. Listen for discrepancies in answers. Adjust accordingly.

There is one caveat though. If it is your first time at a Subway restaurant and you get a Chinese student serving you, you will never be prepared for the question "cheese or toasted?" It comes out something like "chi or toad?" and it will always throw you off unless you have been prepared for it by past experience. The difficulty of all other Engrish-like compression situations is only proportional to the lack of proactive thinking in which you are willing to invest. Happy listening.