Bad News

I have some bad news. I’ve managed to wreck the keyboard and battery on my laptop. At least, that’s all I know for sure that I wrecked. It wouldn’t run a hardware diagnostic on the computer, because it claimed it wasn’t compatible; which is a terrible thing to hear from your computer’s boot, diagnostic, and install disk. Unfortunately, I can’t even go get it fixed, because all this damage is the result of an unfortunate coffee spill, and liquid damage voids the warranty.

Instead, for the moment, I am using my mom’s tiny Acer netbook. I’m going to try to keep up on my posts but I can’t make any promises because I’m not sure exactly how this will all play out. Being broke, I can’t buy a new computer, but I also can’t afford a used one, so I’m pretty much screwed however you spin it. This also comes at an extraordinarily bad time, as I’m trying to sell my book, get a real job, maintain both my blogs, start my new novel, and graduate school. Yes, I know, I’m being a bit of a downer. I’ll try to stop. Today I’m going to take it over to my boyfriend’s house to do a full scale back up and look at the options for repairing it ourselves. It’s a very good thing he knows what he’s doing, because, despite being good with technology, I’m rather impatient and easily frustrated when it comes to doing these things myself.

Today was supposed to be a post on the double standards of mainstream media, but that will have to wait for Wednesday now. So, stay tuned for that. Also, many of you may not know thaqt I’ve moved all of my Youtube related content onto a Youtube specific blog at emilyonyoutube.wordpress.com. I’m starting a new series there about my favourite Vloggers (blogging, but in video form) next week Tuesday. If you’re interested, check it out.

To take an abrupt left turn, I think I’ll also take this opportunity to explain to everyone that I’m not going to be attending my graduation dinner and dance, and why. Yes, I’m not going, but before you panic and start talking about the fact that it’s a once in a lifetime event there are some things to keep in mind. First off, if you’re American I feel I should let you know that the graduation dinner and dance, or whatever you call it, is not nearly as important in Canada. Other than the fact that I’m not super big on parties to begin with, I do have some good reasons not to attend.

1. I would likely not have ended up at a table with people I knew, since I missed the initial table registration. This may sound easily rectifiable but it’s not as simple as that. We had a grad breakfast where every table was given a form for dinner and dance table registration. The problem is: I came a half hour late because I had a resume to hand in. So, when I arrived, I sat with my friends at a table that was already overfilled. The form had already been filled out. As you might have guessed, pretty much everyone put together their table lists before I got there. Then I didn’t have time to organize a spot before the ticket order deadline.

No Cow Milk for Me

2. Something you may not know about me is that I am extremely lactose intolerant. By that I mean that I’m the type of lactose intolerant person that can’t eat cookies if they have butter baked into them. So, I can’t actually eat anything at the dinner and dance. I suppose I could have brought a bag supper or something, but that’s kind of lame and not very enjoyable.

3. I don’t dance (at least not in public), and neither does my boyfriend.

So that is, in a nutshell, why I won’t be attending the dinner and dance, for those of you who know me personally and were wondering, because it’s one of those things that I’ve explained too many times already and will likely have to explain a few hundred more times. Perhaps explaining it on here will take care of some of that for me.

Anyways, take care and thanks for reading. Those are my ramblings for Monday. I swear I’ll have a more traditional post on Wednesday.

 Copyright 2011 Emily Strempler

A Brief Update

Yesterday I spent the day touring galleries, shops, and art studios in downtown Winnipeg with my mom and Hannah, a relative of mine from Germany. It was a wonderful time, and we got some great pictures that I thought I’d share some of with you. The first two were taken by my mom, and the rest are mine.

In other news, my philosophy essay, that was second place in the University of Manitoba’s Glassen Essay Contest, has been published in the local newspaper. I’ll include the link for the essay I wrote, and the winner’s in case you’re interested in checking them out.

My Essay: LINK

The Winning Essay: LINK

photo by Evelyn Strempler

My Mom, Hannah, and I (I'm the one with the hat)

Photo by Evelyn Strempler

Photo of Hannah and I down the stairwell of a heritage building

Photo by Emily Strempler

Photo Down the Staircase of a Heritage Building

Photo by Emily Strempler

Just had to take a picture of the beautiful colors the light through this window was making on the white walls

Photo by Emily Strempler

Taken through the open window of an artists studio on the sixth floor

Photo by Emily Strempler

Sunset between the buildings

Thanks for reading!

Copyright 2011 Emily Strempler

Indefinite Adolescence?

There is a trend that has been apparent in the last generation or two to reach adulthood. People aren’t growing up anymore. They live with their parents until they’re in their mid-twenties, sometimes even longer. They avoid work like the plague, and put off key life decisions because they feel like they’re not old enough to settle down and be serious. People are getting married later, buying homes later, and having children later. In the United States, some young people have been taking out student loans, and then never spending the money on school. Instead, they spend it on things and trips, and then default the amount to taxpayers. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of consequence, and time is being wasted by the bucket load, as those that do move out subsist on welfare programs. Am I the only one that sees this as a problem? Perhaps I’m a cynic, but even if things are half as bad as what I’m seeing, something needs to change.

The biggest issue is that this kind of behavior is not sustainable. The West currently houses some of the oldest populations ever to exist on this planet. It is my generation that will bear the brunt of their medical care and pensions. With people having children later as well, medical costs will increase as fertility treatments become more necessary and more children are born with conditions like autism, the risk for which is increased with older mothers. This means that people should be looking at the future and anticipating that their cost of living will increase, either because of rising taxes or simply rising health care costs (depending on what health care system their country uses). They should be working to get better benefits, save more, and start saving earlier. This isn’t what’s happening. People are choosing to wait later to start taking life seriously and it affects how they think about savings and work.

Another danger is the fact that the international economic situation is better, but still unstable, and still dependent on foreign oil and a complex, extremely flawed loan system. American national debt is past the point of no return, and it’s only so long before other countries, especially China, start withdrawing support. And if the national debt doesn’t cause a collapse, oil, or the school loan bubble could. The economy in the US affects other economies world wide, though the ramifications of such a collapse internationally are something I cannot predict. This means that it is a strikingly bad time to be in a bad place financially. People shouldn’t be taking out loans as freely as they did in the past, and they should be considering the possibility that things won’t be easy indefinitely.

Beyond the above hypotheticals, living as if one doesn’t have to be responsible in the present, but can expect things to fall into place in the future seems like flawed reasoning to me. People often go along with it just because its what they think they should do. But there’s nothing wrong with making life decisions and getting on with it. Doing this tends to be frowned upon, but its what has work for most of the time we’ve been on earth, and its what people are still doing in less developed parts of the world. And here’s the shocker: it works!

People also seem to need to be reminded that there are options other than working for a large corporation or the government for the rest of your life. There is an illogical notion we have embraced that tells us that a high paying corporate desk job, medicine, law, education, or government are somehow better than other occupations. This is something we need to reevaluate if we want to improve the way we are doing things. The fact is, there are places in society for everyone, and many of those places are nothing like the occupations everyone seems to think are the “best”. It’s time to grow up and put aside our preconceived notions.

Photo by Kirsten JensenWhat about agriculture? Agriculture is the world’s most important industry, yet you rarely meet someone that wants to be employed in agriculture. How about being an entrepreneur? Entrepreneurial ventures are important to growing the economy. Not only that, but they say that those that own small businesses are happier on average than the rest of the population. Arts and culture? There is no industry, I think, that is more undervalued than this. People employed in this field give us collective identity, and they perpetuate our sense of community. Not only that but the arts make us come together as a society. Yet, somehow, going into this field is discouraged, and even modestly successful artists are often looked down on as having “chosen poorly”.

I think the biggest reason that we overlook categories like these is that we look at work the way we look at school. It’s something we have to do, but we want to be done with it as soon as possible. Jobs are too often becoming about being perceived socially as successful, or having a “steady” way of getting money to buy things. We need to start seeing them not only as our contribution to society, but also as a way to be happy and personally fulfilled. There are a lot of miserable people working jobs they aren’t suited for, and a lot of students in school for diplomas in subjects they have no interest in, because we’ve lost sight of the multifaceted nature of employment. We don’t see work as a purpose in and of itself because we’re too busy focusing on how we can do the least work and get the most stuff, or off time.

photo used under creative commons - photo by drs2biz on flickrI once heard a story, though I can’t give you the source anymore, I forget, about a hardworking millionaire who visited a fisherman who lived on an island by the beach. The fisherman went out during the day, caught only as many fish as his family needed, and then came back in. He spent the rest of the day with his family. The millionaire saw this and couldn’t believe it. He told the fisherman that if he would only work the entire day, he could be rich and successful, so successful that he might be able to employ other fishermen. The fisherman couldn’t see the point in this and he told the millionaire as much. The millionaire again tried to convince him, but the fisherman refused. He asked why anyone would want that much money. The millionaire started going on about how one could save, and then eventually have enough money to retire. When he retired, he said, he was buying a beach house and never working another day in his life. The fisherman just laughed dismissively. “I already have time with my family and a house on the beach, why is your way any better than mine?”

It’s easy to forget that there’s more than one way to do things in life, and that the best route is not always the one most taken. The most important question isn’t, “how much can I make?” It’s, “what will give me a good life?” or something similar. If you aren’t happy where you are, why are you still there? Maybe its time to stop doing things just because it’s the way everyone else is doing it. Maybe then we will see a decrease in issues like the chronic irresponsibility I was talking about. After all, if you enjoy what you do, then you have greater motivation to make your time count.


Thriving Art Scenes Aren’t Just for Big Cities

U2 in Winnipeg (Photo by Ted Grant)

U2 recently came to Winnipeg, the city with less than 700,000 people in its metropolitan area, where I live. They set up their stage in our football stadium, and an unbelievable number of people turned out to see them, 50,000 people to be exact, around 7.14% of the population. Though it was the biggest act ever to come to our city, this kind of support for arts and music is actually a hallmark of Winnipeg life. Now we’re headed into festival season, a short period in which arts and culture become the center of city activity.

My personal favorite is the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, a twelve-day affair involving buskers and productions from all over the world. Even though our city is a minor one, our Fringe Festival is the second largest in North America, and briefly transforms our historic exchange and theater districts into pedestrian hubs. Streets are blocked off to create space for vendors of interesting goods, clothing, accessories, art, and the like. And one of the best things about the event is that you know that when you buy a ticket (for the amazing price of $10), 100% of the proceeds go to the performers and crew.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival (Photo by Bien Goldschmied)

Another hit that draws people to Winnipeg is the annual Folk Festival, held in a provincial park just outside the city. The line up includes bigger name performers on the massive outdoor main stage, where people line up to reserve the best spots on the grass with tarps and place markers (often poles adorned with flags, lights, or ribbons) so that they will have a place for the best entertainment. The smaller stages, showing a combination of unknown and well-known performers, are set up so that one can wander between at will. The food is delicious, and the vendors sell interesting, quality products. The parking for the five-day festival covers a large field, and comers also fill the nearby campground to bursting.

We also have the popular Jazz Festival and multicultural Folklorama Festival, which celebrate, respectively, Jazz music and the cultural heritage of the ethnic groups represented in the city.

Dancers at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Additionally, Winnipeg supports the Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Manitoba Theater for Young People, the Winnipeg Film Group, the WNDX film festival, the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the School for Contemporary Dancers, and other major arts and cultural ventures. We boast world-class theater, music, and art communities, and have thriving film, writing, and poetry scenes.

So, the big question I’ve been leading up to is: Why are people from smaller cities still convinced that they have to go to a big city, such as Vancouver, Toronto, New York, or Los Angeles, to have a career in the arts?

People leave cities like mine in the hope that they will find success in the wider world, but it makes me wonder if Winnipeg wouldn’t be even more of a destination for Arts and Culture had they stayed. Perhaps, as someone wishing to become an expatriate, I shouldn’t be pointing fingers, but all I want to say is that I have become convinced that fame, fortune, and opportunity are not good enough reasons to leave. How do we think cities become great, anyways? I know that I’ve always had this idea in my head that some cities are great and stay great, while others are backwater and stay backwater. However, I’m beginning to think that I may have been wrong. If Winnipeg can support a thriving art culture, any smaller city can. It’s just a matter of keeping the talent where it’s needed, rather than where its not wanted.

Winnipeg Musician Romi Mayes

It seems that the trend of outward migration is also negatively affecting the cities our artists are fleeing to. In Los Angeles, for instance, there is such an excessive demand for acting jobs that most actors travel there to become unemployed, where they might have had more opportunity in their hometown.

All I can say is, its something to consider if you’re thinking of moving for the sake of an art career. Maybe we’ve been thinking about this wrong. Even smaller cities have something to offer if you’re looking, and if enough people stay, you suddenly have an industry where you are.


Artist Feature: Benjamin Strempler

I’ve talked about a lot of politics and heavy issues lately, and I figured it might be nice to post something lighter and totally unrelated.

As you may have already figured out by his last name, Benjamin is indeed related to me. He’s my thirteen year old brother, and he creates some of the most interesting art I think I’ve ever seen from a kid his age. I thought I’d share some of it with you.

"Yellow Submarine" based on the song by The Beatles

Marvin the Paranoid Android, Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent, and Zaphod Beeblebrox from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Arthur Dent from Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Untitled

Benjamin also enjoys carving and is a member of our local carving club, where he is by far the youngest member. He recently competed in a carving competition and won first place in his category for his shorebird carving, which he also painted himself.

Benjamin's Prize-Winning Shorebird

I thought I’d also feature one of his other carvings.

Wood Spirit

Thanks for reading! Who knows, if I get positive feedback I might do more Artist Features in the future. Comment and let me know what you think.


On Intolerance

It has been an interesting few weeks, and North American tolerance has been tested. The result, people don’t practice what they preach nearly often enough. From the backlash of the arrest of French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn to the outbreak of attacks on all of Christianity based on the apocalypse predictions of Harold Camping, people seem to have forgotten that they’re supposed to treat others with respect.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

I have been appalled to read several blatantly racist articles discussing the response of the French people to Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, first of all. Basically, this whole issue was kick started when French criticism emerged over the treatment of Strauss-Kahn at the hands of the American justice system. Their complaints were basic and fair. They protested Strauss-Kahn’s portrayal as guilty before judge and jury had decided his case, something they thought ensured that the jurors would be biased based on public perception of his deeds. They also protested that the way Strauss-Kahn has been portrayed by the justice system was meant to be humiliating, and was disrespectful. This started a flurry of American media making outrageous claims about the French people, claiming that they were backwards and did not want to see justice done because of the social rank of the supposed victim. I found this incredibly appalling. When did it become a crime to care about the dignity of your leaders being protected. Also, European society puts a higher value on honor and respect than we do in North America. I don’t see how this justifies the tirade of hate against them.

The other topic I have seen appalling coverage of is Harold Camping’s end of the world predictions. I have read several articles by self-professed atheists claiming that Christianity is the problem and Harold Camping an indication of how insane we all are. Excuse me. When did it become okay to judge the whole of Christianity on the actions of one group? And, besides, don’t they also have a right to believe what they like, including that judgement day is just around the corner? Why is it that people in general feel the need to justify themselves by attacking others? We already know that it leads nowhere good. If we want to be progressive, tolerant people, we have to back off and make an attempt to empathize. How would you feel if that was a criticism offered against your beliefs? See, we’ve spent a lot of time claiming that the right to believe what we want is essential to our well being, yet I am continuously confronted with statements denying these rights to others for various reasons.

Young Picketers for the Westboro Baptist Church

This is also a problem in the Christian community, where religions like Islam are often condemned on the basis of the beliefs of small sects within the whole. This is like judging the whole of Christianity, Catholicism and Protestantism both, on the basis of the acts of the Westboro Baptist Church. I have received several alarmist and fear-mongering chain e-mails recently that make absurd claims about a grand conspiracy to conquer Western democracies. Upon researching the claims made about Islam as a whole in one of them, I was appalled by how many of the claims were absolutely baseless, or had no connection to the religion itself, or modern practice of the religion.

The saddest aspect of all of this is how hypocritical it all is. How can we call ourselves tolerant and free when we cannot find it within ourselves to respect the rights of others? How is it that we can preach love, rights, and rationality, and then turn around and act as hypocrites? Why is it okay to say terrible things so long as its about someone the media portrays negatively? I thought we as a society were better than this. Or at least, I hoped we were. Frankly, I am ashamed of the example of religious and cultural intolerance that some segments of the generations before mine have set. Remember we are watching. It frightens me to hear people come to school saying that their parents told them that this religious group or people group is inherently wrong or evil, and that “something needs to be done”. And, this is something that has been expressed to me on more than one occasion. Change has to start somewhere, and I wish it could be with my generation, but the fact is, my generation still looks up to and copies their parents and grandparents. Its no longer good enough to give lip service to tolerance. It has to be lived, too, by people from all parts of society, before any change will be made.


The International Baccalaureate Program: English and History

For a while now I’ve promised an article outlining my views on the International Baccalaureate Program (IB). I was enrolled in three IB classes, Theory of Knowledge, English, and History. The Theory of Knowledge course was a course in philosophy, which I really enjoyed, largely because I love philosophy, and I had an amazing teacher. However, I would not recommend the English course, or the History course, to anyone looking to get a quality education, as both classes pale in comparison to their Canadian Public Education equivalents.

I was in the regular program for English in grade 10 and 11, and, though I was a little bored, I rather enjoyed them. However, when I found out that I could take a higher level English, I was interested. I thought that it would be more challenging, more engaging, and perhaps even more interesting. Since I had an exceptional mark in English Literature Grade 11, they let me jump straight into Grade 12 IB English. Despite the fact that my expectations for the higher-level course were by no means unreasonable, I was incredibly disappointed by the results of my choice. Instead of getting a better course, I found myself enrolled in a make-work course that was less engaging and less informative than the regular level course, and as I continued in the course, things just got worse.

The first major shortcoming I noticed was an overemphasis on literary analysis, but a lack of teaching on the subject. One day, as we were discussing poetry in groups, I found myself teaching four or five of my classmates about iambic pentameter, what it was, what was important about it, and how to identify it, this after three years of reading Shakespeare. In grades 10 and 11 I was required to not only know what iambic pentameter was, but be able to write verses using it. My classmates had never been taught it. Similarly, I was shocked when, as a side note, the teacher said, “Do not attempt to discuss irony unless you are absolutely sure you have identified it correctly. I’ve received too many analyses that confuse irony and wit.”

Though it is hard to believe that a course that puts so much emphasis on analysis doesn’t ensure that the students understand the features they are meant to be commenting on, it is the sad truth. The result is a group of students that spends most of their time talking about the obvious features, such as imagery and rhyme scheme, rater than spending it on the more important usages of metaphor, theme, irony, contrast, and other less apparent aspects. Yes, the discussions on poetry in IB English were more on topic, and more academic, than the discussions that were had in English Lit, but far more insightful observations were presented in the supposedly “lower-level” class.

Another conspicuous difference between the regular and IB English courses was content. In the regular program, we studied fewer books, but spent a larger portion of class time on learning what was important about the books, and gaining context for the stories. We also spent class time discussing the important themes of the books, and talked about why they are still relevant. Additionally we spent time learning about writing itself, including the literary devices IB students seemed so oblivious of, as well as grammar, point of view, dialogue, and voice. This was strangely contrasted with the IB program, in which I don’t believe I learned a single thing. Full class discussions in IB English were extremely rare, and tended to focus solely on question selection for examinations. The only teaching time gave a quick overview of the lives of the authors, and only the shortest glimpse into the context in which the book was written. When group discussions did occur, they consisted of equally uninformed students sharing their tentative (and often completely baseless) conjectures about whatever text had been set in front of us, and tended to be wholly unhelpful. The remainder of class time was dedicated to work periods, presentations, and in class examinations.

The lack of education in the area of grammar and actual writing was the most frighteningly bad aspect of the course. Most IB English students I talked to had no knowledge of the finer points of grammar, such as comma use and dialogue punctuation. Many of them did not know how to properly include footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies. In fact, when we handed in our major history paper for the Grade 12 year, an astounding number of them had to be handed back for changes, because the discrepancies in formatting and citation were so numerous.

In fact, over the entire grade 12 year, the only work I did for English class that did not have the primary goal of assessing understanding of literary features and content was the Provincial English Exam. Every other question I was presented required either a basic comparative or an analytical essay or long answer. I analyzed quotations, passages, and poetry. I compared novels. But I was never once required to use the poetic and literary features I was meant to be studying. You see the IB English curriculum fails at what should be its primary objective. It does not teach students how to speak or write the English language.

On the opposite end of the scale, Grade 10 and 11 regular English required me (in addition to what was done in the IB course) to write short stories, children’s books, persuasive essays, articles, and poetry. Regular English taught me what IB did not. The difference between them in this area is obvious even through a simple comparison of the IB rubric with one for any regular-level project. Such a comparison shows that, while the typical IB rubric gives only a maximum of 10/25 marks for the actual writing of the piece, the typical rubric I was given in grades 10 and 11 attributed between 15/25 and 25/25 for the written work. Why is it that you could write terribly and still pass an IB writing project? They give more marks for understanding and interpretation of the text than they do for ability to write the language it is their prerogative to teach. That is a problem if I ever saw one.

To take an abrupt left turn away from English class, the IB History course I took came closer to living up to my expectations than the English did, however I found that it still fell flat in comparison to the regular-level histories I had taken. As with English, I was exited to move into a higher-level History course because I love History and was looking for a more engaging experience. The IB History course has one major accomplishment, and that is that, as far as content goes, it certainly covers ground. In my History class I learned pretty much everything major that happened in Western history from the French Revolution to the end of the Cold War. The speed we had to go at to cover this volume of information was astounding. We learned all of the French Revolution (which included at least eight government bodies and their actions during the period), in the first month of school.

This accelerated learning was actually too much of a challenge, and the sheer amount of information I was expected to memorize ensured that, by the end of the year, no amount of studying would have allowed me to learn more than a fifth of the more than three hundred pages of detailed notes I had been given. Luckily, all examinations took the form of essay tests, so a fifth of the information sufficed. There were several other problems that emerged as a result of the content overload.

The most obvious problem was that there was no way on earth it could all be taught to the extent it should have been, and basic geographic understanding of the regions in question was assumed where it probably should not have been. A side note about events in Manchuria during the interwar period, for instance, would leave students confused for lack of context. Even though I have the vast majority of European and Asian countries memorized by location, I was often confused. When it came time for tests and exams, though, I would often spend a large portion of my time explaining what the notes were saying by sketching out maps of the areas in question. The geographic aspects were so important to understanding of the wars and conflicts in the history we studied that any understanding would have been better than what was offered.

Similarly, the sheer amount of content made it extremely difficult to keep track of the hundreds of names we were suddenly meant to know. On my final exam I wrote a whole essay on Napoleon the first before I realized that the years I was being asked about referred the reign of Napoleon III, who was a rather minor side note in what we studied (he got, perhaps, a paragraph or two). I ended up having to scrap the essay, but I did manage to finish a replacement. Names and dates are difficult enough when all that is being studied is Canadian History (which I also took), but when you are expected to know well over 200 years of French, British, American, Italian, German, Austrian, Russian, Canadian, and Cuban history, with extensive side notes about the Ottoman Empire, Serbia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Spain, Australia, Finland, and Turkey, it becomes, in practice, impossible. The most disappointing effect of this was the fact that I actually learned less overall in a year and a half of IB history than I did in either Canadian History or Geography. Yes, I studied more in IB history, but I could not, and did not, retain it.

Another problem I noted was that basics such as the differences between left and right wing politics were not covered extensively enough to foster a good understanding. Neither were the base values of different political affiliations. Systems of government were also not covered in enough depth. This didn’t help the general confusion.

Overall, I would not recommend the International Baccalaureate Program’s English and History courses to anyone. The education I received in them was decidedly substandard when compared to the content of the courses offered in regular-level streams of study. I found that the courses as a whole taught me less in terms of usable long-term knowledge, while completely failing to cover basic essentials. If you are looking for something that will prepare you for university, or even just life, IB isn’t it.


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