Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Training A Dog Is Like Teaching A Korean Schoolgirl

Check out this cool video from the perma-cool TED talks about... dog training. Not the most interesting subject ever, I know, but this must be the most genius dog trainer you'll see. Ian Dunbar, the dog trainer in question, has a really neat perspective on canine discipline. It's pretty simple, like all great things are. You have to make the dog's desires line up with yours.

This is great because I think we can take everything he says about dog training and apply it to the rest of our lives, translating the advice about teaching "sit puppy" to "now learn some English." So many times in the classroom do I find myself making the mistakes Dunbar ascribes to bad dog owners. I punish the kids by yelling at them. I fail to understand why the kids want to talk with each other instead of listening to me patter on in a foreign tongue. Dunbar's strategy is all about empathy--about seeing 'bad' behaviour as something logical and understandable, not as evidence of metaphysical malfeasance. This requires making a greater-than-usual effort to understand another being's perspective, but the pay-off is huge: instead of seeing my students as THE ENEMY who I must forge into a disciplined English-learning machine, I can see them as creatures with their own desires and needs--I just have to somehow shoehorn English learning in there. If he can understand why a puppy acts up, then I can understand why my students want to talk with each other instead of studying English.

Now, what's the practical upswing of all this rarefied theoretical bullshit? My biggest discipline problem teaching is that my (all-girl) students often want to gossip to each other in Korean. So if I can take their relentless social urge and somehow filter it into English learning, then my classes will be significantly easier, and more fun. The great thing about teaching a language which you won't get from teaching math or literature, is that language-learning is hard-wired in our brains. It is as natural as eating. The pay-off is instantly satisfying: communication. Now how to harness that communication, that's the hard part, but I suppose I will spend the better part of my weekend thinking this through.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy Happy Joy Joy

One of the reasons why I am the odd critter I am has to be hours of my most impressionable youth wasted soaking up Ren and Stimpy. I was always a little disappointed that real life was nothing like Ren and Stimpy.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Horse-raceish campaign coverage reminds me of a guy tasked to cover the summer swimming hole who wastes his word count dragging his fat big toe through the water skittishly reporting "The water here at the swimming hole is still cold"--but who never actually girds his swimmers and swims, refusing to grace his exasperated readers with even the most cursory splash.

Times for a Quote

More alarmingly, a 20-year-old British tourist partied with her sister and a friend into the early hours in Malia also in July, then returned to her hotel room and — although she had denied being pregnant — gave birth.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Octopus Love

It's sweet. And no, I'm not thinking of the Dream of the Fishmonger's Wife.

(via Drawn.)

Friday, August 8, 2008


I asked what he did for a living. He said he was a housepainter. He asked me the same question about myself.

“I manufacture opinions,” I said.

“Really?” he asked. “How do you know if you’re any good at that?”

“By the number of people who strongly agree or strongly disagree with me,” I said. “If a large number of strangers seem to think one of my opinions is especially true or wildly inaccurate, there is somehow a perception that I am being successful."

-via Fimoculous

Richard Nixon's gremlin.

From the obviously-beloved Museum of Hoaxes comes this story of Dick Tuck, a man who--for reasons which go unmentioned in the article, but will be readily imagined by anyone with a prime-time-television understanding of American history--decided to make Richard Nixon's life miserable and so dogged the pol with simperingly quiescent pranks. My favorite prank: a whole nursery of pregnant women, bellies bulging, holding signs outside a campaign appearance saying "Nixon's the one".

We should totally Tuck McCain.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Who is more dangerous? Bin Laden's driver? Or the guy on the corner smoking crack.

Today Osama bin Laden's driver was sentenced to spend the next five months in prison (he's already served about five years waiting for a trial.) Now this is big, front page news because it's a nice and tidy important judicial victory that comes tantalizingly close to global fear-or-ist number one himself. But one huge glooming thing stretches over this conviction for me. The man is being sentenced, really, for his proximity to bin Laden. The actual charge-this guy is now a war criminal for this-is "providing material support to a terrorist organization." This man was no terrorist mastermind, no idelogical firebrand. He was a driver.

But there's a double-take-worthy sort of twilight justice going on here. On the one hand, the courts declared this guy a war criminal. On the other hand, they don't see his war crimes as eliciting any more than five years in prison. Just to put that into perspective, that's the mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine. In fact, the average sentence for someone convicted of first-time trafficking of crack cocaine is ten years. So your local rock-slinger is TWICE as dangerous as Osama bin Laden's driver. Who is a war criminal. Isn't that a bit strange?

Friday, August 1, 2008

"Thought Experiment"

What if there was a gangster mystique about selling cookware instead of crack?