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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another









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10/04/2003

Stoned?

"I don't know what is marijuana," Chretien said in an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press. "Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."
Good for Jean. But there is a rather more interesting question buried under here. If this is the attitude - and I think it reflects the attitude of many Canadians - why are we going through this whole silly decriminalization charade in the first place?

For the last couple of weeks, as the result of a Provincial Court decision in British Columbia, simple possession has been, more or less, legal. the skies have not fallen, civilization continues. The killer weed - which puts me to sleep frankly - is being smoked openly in the streets of Vancouver and, so far, nothing bad has happened.

Perhaps the Libs might take a look at just why they need to "re-criminalize" marijuana. Why not just let the law die at the hands of the judges?

Troll logic

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat condemned a suicide bombing which killed 19 people at a restaurant in Israel on Saturday, saying it contradicted Palestinian national interests.

Arafat said in a statement that the attack gave Israel a "pretext to obstruct international peace efforts."
link reuters
Which implies that such bombings are just fine if they advance Palestinian national interests. Time for the troll of Ramallah to discover that a bullet between his beady little eyes would advance both Israel and Palestinian interests by removng a huge, obstinate and destructive roadblock.

10/03/2003

Mon Dieu!

Polish troops have found four French missiles in central Iraq that they believe were only manufactured earlier this year, it was revealed last night....

"It is not the first time Polish troops found ammunition in Iraq but, to our surprise, these missiles were produced in 2003," he added.

A spokeswoman for the French foreign ministry denied knowledge of the missiles, saying: "Since July 1990, France has not authorised a single shipment of military equipment to Iraq." Similar accusations were made in the US media in April, she added.
link the scotsman
Of course the simple explanation for this is that the missiles fell out of a French cargo plane on its way to, say, Africa. Because any suggestion that the French would break a United Nations embargo is absurd. Outrageous.

Yoiks, Colby is refraining from Impoliteness

I am just curious as to which bits of my response he is being too polite to comment on. I suspect my skin is thick enough to survive Colby in full figged defence of educational testing in all its guises.

Elve gets wobblier on Iraq

Over at Blogs Canada Jim Elve failed to blog about the Ontario election deciding instead to pen a wee screed about what a bad idea invading Iraq was and just how bad things are over there. He relies on an article from the Sydney Morning Herald - which had he been reading his Tim Blair he would know was his first mistake - to come up with this quote from a Tim Predmore, a soldier serving in Iraq with the 101st Airborne,
I once believed that I served for a cause: To uphold and defend the constitution of the United States." Now I no longer believe that; I have lost my conviction. I can no longer justify my service for what I believe to be half-truths and bold lies.
Jim goes on to complain about the lack of WMDs and asks a batch of loaded questions. He even cites the notorious John Pilger - a leading contender for the Andrew Gilligan Award for Accuracy in Journalism - on what the White House really knew before invading Iraq.

I've posted comments...I suspect one or two of my faithful readers - yes you Debbye and you Paul - might want to read the whole think and fisk the hell out of it. Jim is doing a great thing with the Blogs Canada site; but, hey, he cited John Pilger....


Ontario....ZZZZZ

Yes, there has been a change of government in the most important province that could possibly ever exist. So I went out to look for great bloggy commentary...I looked and I looked. But, as of 1:00AM PST no one on my list (to the right) has had a thing to say. Now I realize my Eastern friends all tuck in around 9:30; but surely there is something to say...No. Well I feel that way myself but that's just the Rockies talking.

Has it finally come to this: Ontario changes parties and no one cares. I live in hope.

10/02/2003

No WMDs

The interim report of the US-British Iraq Survey Group confirms what many have come to suspect in the months since Baghdad fell. In sum, Saddam Hussein's regime did not possess useable biological, chemical or nuclear weapons when the war was launched. Iraq could not therefore accurately be said to pose a current or serious or imminent threat to its neighbours and the west, at least in terms of WMD, as the US and Britain claimed. Less expected, perhaps, is the strong probability, on the basis of these preliminary findings, that such proven Iraqi WMD capability as did exist was largely destroyed in 1991, as Saddam maintained. "We have not yet found stocks of weapons," the ISG says. And, it concedes, it may never find them.
link the guardian
OK. So the entire war in Iraq was a huge mistake, the French were right and those of us who supported the war must hang our blogs in shame. Not.

My own sense is that WMDs will be found. But if they are not the fact is that a nasty piece of work and an apparatus of torture and murder has been removed at relatively little cost. The possibility of a new start in the Middle East has been created. And, perhaps most importantly, Iraq has been brought out from a thirty year nightmare. Now, truth is this should have been done in Gulf War I. But better late than never.

The absence of WMDs is, objectively, a blessing. Because if they were found the possibility exists that not all of them would be found. Which would raise the question of who had them? (A question which I still think needs to be asked even with the current negative result.)

Politically no WMDs will hurt Blair, perhaps fatally given the hard left of the Labour's apparent preference for Saddam in power rather than any use of force with England's greatest ally. Bush is less likely to be badly damaged by the WMD's absence. The problem of losing a GI or two a day is likely a bigger political factor.

Ultimately the invasion of Iraq was a good in itself even without WMDs. Those were largely a question which needed to be answered in order to get United Nations support. Which didn't happen in any case.

Politically I would like there to be a bunker full of WMD's found and carefully seized; but objectively I am just as happy none have been discovered. A political career is no great loss compared to a city.

Bring back Uncle Cuddles

"In Iraq we have destroyed a country and called it liberation. We have created a wasteland and called it peace," said Jimmy Elsby, a member of Labour's national executive body.
link toronto star<
It is difficult to imagine what planet Mr. Elsby is living on. As many have pointed out, if you consider that Saddam was killing around 2000-3000 people a month and looting the oil for food program in a manner which killed another couple of thousand, at this point the "wasteland" is ahead of the game by over twenty thousand innocent lives. Poor Tony Blair. The man has to be polite to this sort of idiot simply because he is a member of the Labout Party.

Dahlan?

For some time I have wondered whether Mr. Dahlan might not embody a solution to the Palestinian problem of governance. Yes, he has committed terrorist acts. Yes, he is little better than the mob running the place now. But he seems to be a realist which is important. And he has his own block of support,
Dahlan did not just say no, he also showed active defiance in a form Arafat has not faced before. He ordered thousands of his armed supporters into the streets of Gaza City and Khan Younes on Sunday, September 28. Firing in the air, they actually burned effigies of two top Fatah leaders, Hani al-Hassan and Abbas Zaki, Arafat’s instruments for bringing down the Abu Mazen government.

The demonstration told Arafat loud and clear: You may do what you will in Ramallah -- topple governments or form new ones. But in Gaza I, Dahlan, rule the roost!
link debka files
There is going to be a civil war in the Palestinian territories. Whether it is fought above or below ground is anyone's guess. But the forces of fantasy, headed by the troll of Ramallah, are going to have to be removed and replaced by realists. Dahlan fits that bill.

10/01/2003

WMD's found?

Kuwaiti security authorities have foiled an attempt to smuggle $60 million worth of chemical weapons and biological warheads from Iraq to an unnamed European country, a Kuwaiti newspaper said on Wednesday.

The pro-Government Al-Siyassah, quoting an unnamed security source, said the suspects had been watched by security since they arrived in Kuwait and were arrested "in due time." It did not say when or how the smugglers entered Kuwait or when they were arrested.
AP in hindustani times
Politically I hope this is true, but if these are being sold then there are much worse dangers ahead. The reporting is on the AP wire; but not yet mainstream media. But it will be lovely to see the expression on the antis faces if this pans out. Poor Clare Short, poor Chirac...I'll wait for more conclusive evidence but then, yes, I will join the rest of the Blogosphere in a general gloat.

Blogging and Colby and Testing

I have been fighting server wars and trying to get two pieces done on deadline so I've not been blogging or reading many blogs. The pleasure of return was enhanced by a visit to Colby Cosh's blog. Along with being all over the failure of the Conservatives and the Alliance to merge - for cultural reasons which I hope Colby elaborates on - he has weighed in on the side of testing in schools by way of reaction to Phillip Pullman's Guardian article.

Pullman does not much like testing,
My second point concerns the brutal, unceasing emphasis on testing and marking. It leads to a superficial way of working and a very limited way of responding to it. I recently judged a short story competition run by a charity, and what dismayed me about the entries was they were all superficially bright and competent, correctly spelled and punctuated, and all absolutely lifeless.
Nor do I.

I loved tests in school. Loved them because I knew I could do well and loved them because they were a welcome break from thinking. Judging from my 13 year old's schooling, tests now take up more time and require even less thinking. (Of course, the poor kid just got 50% on a social studies project in Grade Eight because he still is a rather inexpert colourer.) I liked tests in university even more because they showcased a certain sort of ability which I am blessed with - I can write eight hundred to twelve hundred words on almost anything with next to no effort and an hour's prep. Compared to even the shortest out of class essay, an exam, a mid-term, was a snap. One which allowed me to demonstrate a grasp of the material and to toss in an out of the way fact or two which ensured a really solid first.

Which, of course, is a complete waste of time. Whether you are in grade one or graduate school what tests measure is the ability to take tests. And what that measures is the willingness of one's teachers to teach to the tests.

We have now arrived at a moment where teaching facts, the mainstay of testing, is rendered redundant by Google. Certainly until you get to upper level university there is no reason why you need to actually "know" anything. You can and should look it up on the net. What education should be about is acquiring skills. The problem is that testing skills is a barren activity. You can teach skills and you can practice them; but testing reading or writing or arithmetical skills implies that there is some sort of objective standard to be met.

Being able to read - something my almost three year old seems quite willing to teach himself using street signs - is just that. You can decipher words on a page. If there is a word you don't know you have to be able to either look to its root to tease out meaning or reach for your dictionary. What reading testing tends to measure is how fast
you can read. Which is not a very interesting indicator of reading ability.

While it is certainly true that a lawyer or a doctor, or even a humble book reviewer, needs to be able to read quickly, most of the rest of the world has little need for speed. So why test it? the answer is that without the element of time, virtually every child can read at "grade level" so everyone would pass and that would stymie the testing paradigm. Testing means dividing kids up into groups of achievers and non-achievers. When everyone passes the critical sorting process can't happen and that would be, to quote Pooh, A Bad Thing.

With writing the same time issue arises and is compounded by the fact there are very few people who can write clean copy at one go. With practice, a lot of practice, it is a skill which can be developed; but to expect, or even ask a kid to turn out literate English on the clock in a single draft demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the craft of writing. Of course the poor kids are going to produce cookie cutter material - if they are lucky.

Real writers - from lawyers to carpet layers - take several runs at a complete draft. Quirky exceptions - and I suspect Colby is one - may get away with a draft and a polish; but most of us have to revise. Any timed test of writing skills measures a facile skill which would leave most professional writers at the bottom of the class.

Ah, but what about math. Surely that is objective enough to be accurately tested. Here again we run into the problem of time. Given enough time most of us can puzzle our way through most elementary math problems. Especially if we are allowed to look at a text book. And, for most of the math problems life sets us, we have more than sufficient time. What we have to be able to do, and this is not really a testable skill, is recognize a math problem when we see it and reach for an appropriate mathematical tool to attack the problem. A process which takes much more time than the world of testing allows.

Little kids are learning machines. They gobble information and skills and experience. I find my younger son Sam picking up the dog French I occasionally speak just for the fun of saying "Hello, how are you?" a different way. At two a teachable moment arrives every five minutes. But there are no testable moments. The lightness of learning at this age is all about enjoying the discovery of what all that brain stuff can do.

Somehow, by the time a child is eight or nine, learning becomes a chore. Part of that is the incredibly inefficient use of time in elementary school, but part of it is that children are told they have to download what they know on pieces of paper to get marks. It is an alien and utterly unnecessary concept driven soley by our society's long term, unspoken need to ration educational resources.

The need to ration is now coming to an end. One of the most basic changes wrought by the internet is that distance education is not only possible it is desirable. And, there is no longer any shortage of class space. The best professors in the world can lecture on the net and be seen by as many people who want to sign up for the course. (Yes, if you want credit you'd have to pay a fee for the marking and exams and all the rest; but that is a hangover from the credentialing mania of the 90's.) A video camera and a wifi connection and the prof is on line, live, right now. (Which will lead to all sorts of fun intellectual property problems.)

We no longer have to ration so why are we testing? Because, culturally, we are still operating on the social/educational sorting model which insists that we find a way of making Johnny "smarter" than "Billy". It is a delusion and a waste of both Johnny's obvious talent and Billy's hidden capacity. It will stop soon.

Dahlan gets it late

Former Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlen said in an interview in the Washington Post,
Dahlan told the AP. "We did not understand 9/11 in a correct and fundamental way that would have allowed us to help the national interest of our people, to bring back the international legitimacy of our [Palestinian] Authority,"
link wapo
Yes, well, those demonstrations of delight in Gaza...not too bright. What the Palestinians can't quite seem to grasp is that the Americans were perfectly willing to play along with the mythology of the Palestinian struggle for statehood up until the point that terror arrived in their front yard. That was it. No fooling around. 9/11 meant that any slack the Muslim world expected to be cut for whatever reason was gone. Finished.

Dahlan had one route to American favour: he had to take on the terrorists beginning with the Troll of Ramallah. He didn't. Which put him in the unhelpful column in the little book donald Rumsfeld has in his hip pocket. this is not a good place to be. Now he is out of power - such as it was - and while there are street demonstrations being staged by his supporters, the Americans will likely view him as a spent force.

Next.

9/29/2003

RIAA scared of Court

After all of the sabre rattling it appears the RIAA is cutting deals as fast as it can with those pesky pirates.
Daniel N. Ballard, a lawyer whose firm is representing at least four defendants, said the settlement offers he was familiar with -- between $3,000 and $4,000 -- appeared aimed at discouraging Internet users from hiring defense lawyers.

``It's a small enough number that it doesn't make economic sense to hire an attorney to litigate these,'' Ballard said.
link siliconvalley.com
The RIAA says that 52 of the 261 people it has sued have settled so far.

The term nuisance suit springs to mind. So does extortion.

Tech Brilliance

As it happens I really like my hosting company, EhostPros but they seem to be a tiny bit communications challenged. On Friday I could post to this blog, Saturday I could post but nothing showed up. It turns out the tech guys switched me over to another web management tool which a) changed my root directory, b) changed my password. The only thing was they didn't actually tell me that they had done this. Brilliant.