Monday, December 22, 2008

Negligent blogging in the first degree...

So I'm a blogger that lacks a plan, which also means that I typically lack posts as well.

I'm hoping to change that. I just finished reading a 30 days to a better blog challenge over at (thanks for all the hard work Steve!), and I learned some good things I think will help me to be better prepared to blog more faithfully.

I know that I need to have some topics to stick to as a guideline, to give my blog some backbone and substance.

I think I would also like to try out some vlog action as well. I'm not saying I'm going to be Ze Frank or anything, but I do hope to put some stuff out into the vlogosphere worth viewing and responding to.

So, if you are actually someone who used to read my blog but has abandoned me because I'm a loosey-goosey poster, check me out over the next month. I am developing (like Blackadder always did) a cunning plan...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Go for it sister!

Ever since I started running, one of the things I began doing was cheering on other runners I saw while I was out doing things, driving in my car, on the bus, etc. Regardless of how speedy or efficient they looked, whether male or female, young, old, skinny, fat, slow, fast, I took to waving and calling out "go for it brother/sister!" (depending on the gender of the runner, of course...)

Funny how habits stick with you. Years later, I'm still doing it, and now the tradition has passed on to my son, Jonah. At 4 and a half years old, he hollers out "go for it sister!" every time he sees a runner out doing their thing. (Still have to work on the gender appropriate cheer with him- even boys get the "go for it sister!"- hilarious!)

I love it. One of my fave scriptures is Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. NKJV
That image of there being a huge crowd cheering each of us on as we pursue our faith with God always overwhelms me. I always visualized those voices calling out and urging me on, but now those voices have a human sound- Jonah in the back seat cheering on runners of every description and size as they go for it.

Thank God for kids. I know Jonah's cheers give me juice to push through my flabby cramps to make the distance, and the cheers from heaven still give me the push I need to keep going forward toward the prize.

Ricardo is going down...

Last night I ran 7.5 km without pause. Tonight, I nailed a 5K tempo run. Ricardo says he doesn't need to train because "there's no quit in [him]."

He better hope there isn't. Because I'm not letting up until I cross the finish.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Guess I'm a betting man...

So the school I teach at engages populations of students from two very different yet challenging communities. About half the students hail from North Preston, which is the largest indigenous community of black people in Canada.

I've enjoyed my year at the school, and one of the brightest spots is how I've been able to forge really positive and warm relationships with many of the students from North Preston. There are many students from this community who arrive with the expectation that things will not go well due to negative past experiences. I haven't been perfect, by any stretch, but the hard work to build a shared normal has even paid off with students who may not be the most academically engaged but have come to appreciate the structure and support I provide.

One kid (who we'll call Ricardo, for anonymity's sake) has been talking smack all year long about how he can beat me at whatever we happen to be talking about in class. Until a little while ago, that was generally basketball (which he is pretty good at), hockey or football.

But about 10 days ago he told me how old I was and that he'd cream me in a running race.

Now I haven't REALLY run in years- I go for a run every once in a while, but I'm not dedicated like I used to be when I trained for half-marathons in Montreal. But I couldn't help myself. He bet me that he could beat me straight up in a race. So I agreed to race him if I could pick the distance. He grinned and said sure.

I told him we'd run 10km the last day of school for bragging rights once and for all. He shook on it, and I have been training since.

Tonight I went for the longest run in ages, the longest since training for the demi-marathon de Montreal in 2002 with my friend Matt. I ripped off a 7.5K in just over 42 minutes at an average heartrate of 180 BPM.

Here's the route I ran:

Be afraid Ricardo. Be very afraid. I'm going to run you into the ground... :) And this old man will get to call you a loser AND get back on track with running.

Who knew petty competition could be such a great motivator? LOL...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

U for useless?

This picture sums up just about everything wrong with the NSTU.

Once again the faces at the negotiating table lack two critical things:
1. Real qualifications as negotiators (none of these people is a lawyer, or someone who specializes in negotiating collective agreements as their sole vocation and has a proven track record of winning outstanding gains in collective bargaining)
2. Real perspective that matters to huge portions of the teaching population in Nova Scotia (old, old, old, old, old... Good mix of teaching experience and career status to ensure values and priorities are balanced, no?)

I'm not here to argue that there isn't experience in participating in negotiations at the table- some of this crew has done the dance before, and several times, at that.

But let's be honest- teachers have had their contractual backsides handed to them since 1993 when we got served, and the government of Nova Scotia was successful in dividing and conquering the membership of the NSTU.

The then sitting president concocted a deal that gave him and his close-to-retirement cronies a golden parachute achieved by selling out substitutes and early career teachers that laid the foundation for what remains an ongoing tension in values and priorities between permanent and early career teachers.

One only needs to revisit the maelstrom that was the pension debacle of 2006, where 45% of teachers who voted spoiled their ballots in protest over the single-dimensional options presented by the NSTU leadership to select from. We could choose between unpalatable option 1 or unpalatable option 2. The deal that appealed to the long term interests of early career teachers trumped the interests of teachers close to retirement, and now Nova Scotia teachers pay more of their salary towards their pension than anyone else in the province OR country.

That has translated into many people close to retirement staying on long past their eligible to retire dates out of fears that their pension will not be indexed, and may not be indexed, for years to come. Believing that they need to max out their pensions means the wave of retirements that was supposed to usher in a prolonged window of opportunity for younger teachers was much abbreviated, that mythical window called a "teaching shortage" is shut, with numbers of permanent hire positions available during the first two rounds to date down sharply compared to last year.

The last two contracts I have been in Nova Scotia for were a farce- the NSTU trumpeted yearly salary increases of 2.9% for the life of the contracts won as major victories, while refusing to put any significant items in our asking packages (let alone collective bargaining) to address the abysmal state of affairs for substitutes and early career teachers. 2.9% hasn't covered the cost of living increases for anyone in 6 years, and our braintrust at the beige fortress on Joe Howe Drive would have us believe that we've really put it to the government.

Gains by other Labour unions in NS have clearly outpaced those of teachers, and while our leadership love to stroke their overpaid egos with the notion that the NSTU is the most feared union in the province, teachers on the ground level see the lack of vision and strength in our paid staff and elected leaders and recognize that we are a ship stuck on a path for status quo, a status quo guaranteed to leave us on the perpetual short end of the stick.

If the candidates running for NSTU president (Alexis Allen, Eric Boutilier, Simon Wilkin, Jack Toomey, Russell Comeau- the latter two don't even have a website...) are any indication, that's not about to change any time soon.

The negotiations underway are pretty much guaranteed to result in farcical gains as well- the salary increases we asked for are so low that we're banking on getting 2.9% annually again. There is no discernible effort or priority to win bigger gains to offset the wage freezes of the 90's.
The bottom line is that these negotiators get paid their 6 figures and expenses whether they make gains or not.

I'd feel much better if our dues were spent on a ringer of a negotiator who got paid according to the gains won.

The other thing that bothers me is that not one of the faces on the team represents younger or early career teachers in current or recent experience.

This is troublesome because you always fall back on what you know best, and for a good portion of this team, that's what teaching was like a decade ago, either because they're professional Union workers who haven't been in a classroom or they're principals.

Equally problematic is that this aspect of union business is not being carried out with any vision to equipping and enabling a new generation to take things to a higher level. We are relying on old war horses with an incremental approach that has proven to be slower to win gains than the rate of increases in cost of living. We continue to do things the same way and expect different gains. I think someone once called that insanity...

I look to the steel nerved leadership teachers in British Columbia got from their union a few short years ago when the provincial government tried to legislate teachers' ability to represent themselves effectively in collective bargaining away and threatened wage garnishing and legal consequences.

Our leadership flinched at that rumour in 1993 and sold out its most vulnerable members to make sure those who were already entrenched and taken care of stayed that way.

In BC, the union pulled its membership together, stared the government down and told them they weren't going to have any of it, and stuck to an agenda that aggressively pursued important wins for teachers across the board, especially for supply and early career teachers.

Last time Nova Scotia's teachers were negotiating, we had a 96% strike mandate because teachers were sick of the low pay and strained working conditions, and the core of the team working on our behalf today parlayed that show of strength in 2.9% annually over 4 years with no significant changes for substitute and early career teachers, far and away the population that needs the strongest advocacy in contract negotiations, and passed it off as a big fat win.

Forgive me if I don't stand up and cheer for that same core now as they present a deal which almost ensures either status quo or gains that are so minimal as to be hardly noticeable at all. Mary Lou Donnelly has advised teachers at every turn to take whatever deal is on the table yet. Don't expect her very-close-to-retirement perspective and cohort of negotiators, many of whom are long removed from the classroom, to change and encourage teachers to stand up for what matters to them and win the gains that we should be after.

I can't believe I pay almost $700 a year for leadership like this...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The fiddle...

...HAS to be Erik's new moniker after the the absolute worst play in Survivor history for how he was played like Itzhak Perlman dealing Beethoven's 9th by the four women left in the game.

How anyone gives up individual immunity with a shot at the final four after dominating all immunity challenges since Ozzie and Jason left the game is infinitesimally foolish.

Ultimately, the ice cream boy remained an ice cream boy, and one who doesn't appear to be much adept at scooping or not squishing cones. Schooled, bamboozled, burned, dominated, bluffed- none of these are too superlative to describe the successful snow job perpetrated by Natalie and Cirie.

If you're Erik, and the plain common sense of NOT giving immunity up doesn't hit you like a schoolyard bully right off the bat, doesn't the headshaking and body-shaking attempts of every single jury member to not howl out in uncontrollable laughter tip you off that what you are considering is lunacy?

Erik, despite being a walking encyclopedia of all things Survivor, loves the game, but he doesn't GET the game. You win by having a plan and executing yours better than your competitors and by selling that execution to the jury, not by shouting your errors, begging for forgiveness that he didn't need from the four bags of lies and deception that reamed him out at tribal council and giving away the only sure thing in the game.

Erik got what he came for- a chance to be awed by Survivor celebs and worship at their living sides.

On the other hand, you have to give credit to Natalie and Cirie for making an insane option seem plausible and necessary to stay in the game in the face of the reality of the immunity necklace dangling from his neck. The sheer audacity of it was impressive- that they pulled it off borders on genius, although time will temper the magnitude of the achievement, because it wasn't like they had much of an obstacle to overcome in dealing with Erik's complete inability to read anything accurately.

Here's where it gets ugly. Watch the knives come out and see everyone gun for the others now. The last challenge is always about endurance, so the odds have to favour Amanda and Parvati. Beyond that, these women could care less about relationship- they want the money, and I can guarantee that there is a jury full of people ready to set the record straight if anyone attempts to sell the notion that relationships matter- only Alexis wasn't toilet paper when it comes down to it.

Stunned. And they won't let Canadians play this game?

Friday, April 25, 2008


So the NSTU held its first ever presidential candidate forum via webcast last night. I applaud the effort to make the forum accessible across the province. I watched out of curiousity to see how the technology would pan out as much as interest in what candidates would present.

And what the candidates presented was pretty much what I expected, with one exception.

Alexis Allen talked about how hard she's worked, that she has taught for 30 years, yada, yada, yada. There was no vision or freshness to her ideas or presentations, which means if she's elected, we'll continue to have a union that's driven by highly overpaid teachers pretending to be lawyers and negotiators under the guide of executive staff officers (who actually have their own union and contract with the NSTU).

Jack Toomey said pretty much the same thing as Alexis. His moneyball comment came when he said we should be spending more money to communicate with the public. I was curious to know if he, as first vice president this past year, was one of the brain trust who signed off on the horribly irrelevant holiday add this year where the main message was that Mary Lou Donnelly sure knows how to kiss babies. If he thinks that's effective communication, we're in for raised dues to pay for his media campaign and a boatload of dollars wasted on tacky and pointless TV ads.

Simon Wilkin gave some focus to new teachers and getting people involved, but he didn't say anything to show me that he has any new ideas for reform to make the kind of changes that will shake our union out of complacency and into effectiveness and innovation. He wore the nicest suit and looked the best on the screen, but I'm not excited about the prospect of him driving the boat.

Eric Boutilier at least seems genuine, but there's so little of his platform that reflects anything other than the priorities of permanent teachers that I just can't see how he's the person to get the union to finally leverage its influence to deal with the biggest issues facing its most vulnerable constituents- substitutes and early career teachers. While his points are valid, who doesn't know or believe that a salary increase in our contract that matches the true cost of living increase we're all facing isn't important, or an article that ensures classes are composed with a clear, entrenched framework for funding and support?

The candidate who took it home for me was Russell Comeau. He was the candidate I knew the least about, but he hit the nail on the head a bunch of times. The most significant point he raised was the critical need to rework the language of our contract to escape the problem we have now- that we negotiate for permanent, probationary, term and substitute teachers almost separately, and consequently have gains that apply to one group but not others- he clearly laid out as a priority the need to have language that ensures gains apply to all when won so we don't have entrenched layers of inequality that grow tension and discord between different groups.

With the proposed articles of our asking package distributed recently, it's obvious that those who are leading our union are getting paid a ton and delivering little. Our asking items are mamby pamby to begin with, ensuring that we whatever we win will be less than lukewarm. The vast bulk of items requested really only impact permanent teachers, and changes proposed for subs seem significant, but only if you didn't hear the deputy minister of education scoff at how poorly paid subs are in both major newspapers earlier this year. If you can't win gains this year, when can you? If I hear the NSTU thumping its chest over these gains, I will be quick to point out the lack of substitute teacher issues in asking packages, annual council business and presence on the provincial executive have been the three biggest factors in the abysmal and near poverty stricken state of affairs for NS subs.

Here's hoping Russell can overcome the popularity contest this election has been too often, and the archaic regional politics that can ruin the best candidates chances simply because of where they live and work.


It's official. The men of Survivor Micronesia are inept. They are daft, and they will surely go down in history as the epitome of lambs to the slaughter.

Let's review. Jason believes a rudely carved stick is the immunity idol. Jason wins immunity, staving off elimination. On the next show, he GIVES UP immunity so his competitors can EAT on their "promise" not to vote for him. What saves him is some brilliant skullduggery on the part of Cirie and Parvati to whack Ozzie. So he finds the hidden immunity idol AND DOESN'T play it.

Further to this indescribable lack of the ability to read or discern what could be going on (even hear of talking to MORE THAN ONE PERSON?), his male colleagues, whilst sitting in on a "how dumb is Jason" session, where the women openly state their plan to draw out the immunity idol or send him packing, NEGLECT to tell him or leverage the suddenly vulnerable Amanda, who could well have been enticed to pay Parvati back for the knife in the ribs.

But what happens? James goes solo against Parvati. Jason votes for James, and Erik votes for Jason.

Shameful... What game are these guys playing, and when will thinking about the numbers and looking at the dynamics of the female five enter their minds and compel them to do something before they all are sitting bitterly on the jury licking their wounds?

I don't like any of the women, but they are playing cold, hard killer games right now, and that's what wins it. I just wonder if Cirie will be smart enough to engineer the whacking of Parvati and Amanda so that she takes the two female fans to the final three. She was sweet the first time around, but she's slithering now... How low can she go? I think she's prepared to tell the whole world "I whacked them all, and that's why I'm sitting here with these two fans who went along with plans but never hatched them, and you're not. Hate me, but I beat you, and you can't argue with that."

PS. Is it just me, or does Natalie look a lot like the Grinch with that buff on her head?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Brett Favre Retires...

I don't intend to get too worked up about all the heresay that will fly around about how bringing in FA X/Y/Z or trading for quantity A/B/C would have kept Brett in the game.

If you read the article on Favre as SI Sportsman of the Year, you get a picture of the enormous emotional and mental toll playing pro ball has taken on Brett. If you really loved the guy and found out about him, you knew he was a regular guy who just happened to have an incredible gift to play quarterback. Mowing the lawn is a joy to the man- he's everyman.

Brett has said that getting up mentally to play the game is just too costly for him. We all know he can still play- heck, he knows it too- the point is that he's decided that he's done all he can do and playing beyond this point lacks purpose, especially if it means anything besides a second Lombardi trophy is abject failure.

I hope that fans take this time to savour one of the greatest players ever to play the game while his plays, hilights and lowlights are still fresh in our minds instead of pontificating about whose fault it is that Brett is going to enjoy life at home.

We all knew the day would come. It's here today. He gave us EVERYTHING for 17 years, and he needs us to give him his freedom and not keep tugging at him to come back or make him feel like he still needs to give us something.

All I have to say is well done Brett. You did yourself proud. You played like a legend every game (whether it was good or bad), and you became a legend. No one can talk about all time greats without mentioning your name, and no packer fan will ever forget how you transformed this team.

Enjoy the fruits of your labour as fully as you enjoyed playing the game.