Saturday, 31 May 2014

Fear and the University

So, all of us who care to have heard about the drama going on at the University of Saskatchewan lately will have heard by now. The TransformUS project, which really translates into another crippling bout of layoffs and department mergers in the name of a maybe-deficit that isn't too different from the deficit facing pretty much any public institution in the country. Soon-to-be retired professor R. Buckingham's outcry against the TransformUS plan and the rather brutal reaction of the provost/president with his termination and a lifelong ban from campus. The popular outcry that this was an affront to academic freedom and freedom of speech and the resulting resignation of the Provost and termination of President Ilene Busch-Vishniac.

I am ashamed to say that, as an employee of the university, I did very little to speak out against TransformUs, or Busch-Vishniac's treatment of Dr. Buckingham. I didn't blog about it, facebook about it, didn't reshare any of the articles I was avidly reading, didn't attend the May 21st rally. I didn't do any of these things because I was afraid -- like, stupid, paralyzing, lay in my bed in the dark and fear for my job/develop dental tooth-grinding problems afraid.  I am only talking about it now because I feel a bit safer under the administration of our new temporary president Gordon Barnhart.

So, why so afraid? Aside from the obvious fear of losing a job that I love, being a new employee in a unionized setting where there is a push towards "last in the door, first out," I was afraid because under the regime of Busch-Vishniac, there was a seemingly conscious effort to create a climate of fear. All employees regardless of union/non-union/tenure-track/faculty status were at risk of coming to work one morning to find a pair of security guards and (if lucky) a cardboard box waiting at their desk. No two weeks warning, no gentle words of explanation and an honourable goodbye--just the University equivalent of gestapo making an example of you in front of people you'd worked with, maybe for decades, and a long escorted "perp walk" off campus.

Management through fear, while it may work fine in many corporate environments, is absolutely contrary to everything an academic institution should stand for. This is because fear is so frequently partnered with ignorance. I won't say that you can't have one without the other, or that one causes the other, but chances are: where there is fear, there is ignorance, and where there is ignorance, there is fear.

By encouraging an atmosphere of fear on a University campus, Busch-Vishniac was also encouraging ignorance. Innovative thinking on the part of the students can hardly be fostered in a place where staff are bullied to thinking and behaving like drones. And without innovative thinking on the part of at least some percentage of the University population, what, really, is the point of the academic institution? We become some sort of Dr. Seussian machine churning out identical creatures with stars on their bellies and stamped pieces of paper in their hands.

While the relief when the Provost stepped down was great, and the relief accompanying the termination of Busch-Vishniac even greater, I think the true sign that this attitude of ruling-by-fear is changing comes with interim president Barnhart's assurance that Perp Walks are a thing of the past. Perhaps with the withdrawal of the cloud of fear that has been hovering over the campus for the past few years, the entire institution can get back to the important task of focusing on enlightenment over ignorance. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

A Note on Elliot Rodgers

I have ten minutes to write down my thoughts on the mass murderer behind the killing of six people at UC Santa Barbara earlier this week--and ten minutes is more than he's worth.

First: You, Elliot Rodgers, were a spoiled self-absorbed whiny little prat who couldn't take responsibility for your own failures and insecurities, choosing to instead project that self-hate outwards. You lacked the self awareness anyone dealing with mental issues needs to pursue a normal, healthy life. More than that, you were too blinded by your own selfishness to have any degree of that needed self-awareness.

Second: Yes, you were a misogynist asswipe, Elliot, but contrary to what the media is yowling about, the real issue here isn't misogyny. Misogyny played a role, yes. It heavily influenced the heavily influence-able Elliot, for certain, but the real issue is mental illness, and our inability as a society to read the warning signs of someone about to flip their lid, and do something useful with that information. And lets face it, our Elliot was throwing up plenty of red flags. Society as a whole needs to both understand mental illness more completely, take its manifestations more seriously, and deal with it more directly and decisively if we are to prevent these tragedies from occurring.

That's all I've got to say on the issue.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Crispy Cauliflower with Capers, Raisins, and Breadcrumbs

Okay, so I don't even like cauliflower, but this turned out *amazing*. It is probably the longest I will ever spend preparing cauliflower in my life, because there were so many goofy little components, but well worth it.

2 heads  cauliflower, cut into florets
6 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp salt-packed capers, soaked, rinsed and patted dry
¾ cup fresh, coarse breadcrumbs
½ cup low-salt chicken stock
cup sultanas1 tbsp white wine vinegar or
Champagne vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground
black pepper
30g Italian parsley, chopped
[Preheat oven to 220°C]
Toss cauliflower florets with 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large bowl. Spread the cauliflower out in a single layer on two shallow baking trays lined with baking paper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the cauliflower is golden and crispy, about 20–25 minutes.
Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until just golden, about 2–3 minutes. Watch carefully that the garlic does not burn. Turn the heat up slightly, add the rinsed capers and cook until they start to pop, about 3 minutes longer. Add breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, until breadcrumbs are golden, about 2–3 minutes. Transfer the breadcrumb mixture to a plate and set aside.
In the same saucepan, heat the chicken stock to a boil. Add the sultanas and the white wine vinegar and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Transfer warm cauliflower to a serving bowl. Scatter the sultana mixture over, then toss to distribute evenly. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Sprinkle the cauliflower with the garlic capery breadcrumbs and the chopped Italian parsley.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Chickpeas with Leeks and Lemon

I stole this simple dish from Oprah. That's right, right out of her hands. Because I'm awful like that. My advice is to go easy on the flavoring--I found it didn't need much, and it came out superb. I used the rest of the lemon to make a honey lemon hot drink for my sick self. 


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and bruised but whole
  • 1 6-inch branch fresh rosemary, broken in two
  • 4 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and with the white and light green parts sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 lemon


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic and rosemary over medium heat. Once the garlic turns fragrant and the rosemary begins to sizzle, remove the rosemary, setting it aside for later. 

Add the leeks to the pan, along with a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the leeks are soft and sweet but still brightly green, around 5-8 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas, and continue to cook, turning the beans in the oil, for 5 minutes more, at which point the chickpeas should have darkened slightly in color. 

Using a microplane or zester, add a few scrapes of lemon zest to the pan, along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir gently to combine. Check for seasoning, adding more juice, zest or salt as needed. Return the reserved rosemary sprigs to the pan, and enjoy warm or at room temperature. 

A complex relationship with language

. . .or a language complex. . .

Reading kills meaning
as writing slays word.s
Language a slag heap
of bloodied nouns,
broken adjectives,
twitching verbs.

There is a certain type of former English major who suffers a form of literary ptsd. I am one of them. Pursuing my degree ruined me for pleasure reading (simple pleasure reading, anyway--now I always always must analyze what  is being read on a more complex level). Likewise, my ability to string a sentence together in a way that seems clever without sounding trite has been torn from me, and I bumblefuck my meaning across, bleating like a tongueless antelope. (See?)

It's like there are two extremes of interaction with language, and only a certain personality type is able to walk the knife's edge between the two and experience true literary contentment. On the one side, we have an extreme where things like reading and writing seem so dull, onerous, and unnecessary, that individuals would rather lick sandpaper than read a line of Shakespeare. Let us call this extreme that of literary ignorance. People in this category much prefer swifter forms of communication like texting. At the other extreme, we have individuals who find themselves so trapped in a neverending Hell of literary analysis they would rather stab out their own eyes with forks than read another line of Shakespeare. Let us call this extreme that of literary over-saturation. This would be the category I fall into, I think.

Could the ever narrowing gap of literary contentment between these two extremes be part of why language itself seems to be going the way of the dodo? Are we all so impatient with language, or so worn out on it, that we would rather grunt and stab at small screens with our thumbs than communicate openly with our tongues?

I don't have an answer. Ask me again when I'm not running a fever.