Archive for September, 2011

University of Western Ontario Professor Emeritus Paul Davenport

Since the day oh so many years ago that Paul Davenport coined the phrase, The University of Western Ontario has prided itself on having the best student experience (at a research intensive university – funny how that part gets forgotten).

This year campus and London-area event planners seem to have out-done themselves by featuring a long line-up of acts that includes Lights, Basia Bulat, Avicii, The Sheepdogs, and Said the Whale.  And that’s just this coming week.  Later this year King’s has booked acts such as Bedouin Soundclash and Stars while The Wave is bringing in acts such as Keys N Krates.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But is this really the best student experience that Western – and the USC – can provide?

Simply put, the aforementioned groups/artists really only cater to a certain segment of the 30,000-strong Western population.  They cater to the popular music-loving, generic techno-loving, line-up-at-8pm-to-get-into-Jim Bob’s crowd and are being put on in conjunction with promotions companies such as Premier Life whose main goal is to make students buy over-priced alcohol.  And I can guarantee you that the segment of the Western population mentioned previously make up only a small fraction of Western students.

So, what’s in it for the other 22,000 or so Western students that don’t care about that kind of music or that kind of scene??

Sadly, not very much.

In one example of Western doing it right, last night the Arts & Humanities and Music Soph teams put on a good event, featuring a talented band who played some of their own tunes as well as some classic rock and country favourites.  That was followed by an open mic that featured an eclectic array of performances with something that everyone could enjoy.  It was fun, friendly, and inexpensive (in this case it was free).  The catch you ask??  The event was for Frosh and Sophs only.

Now, when Dr. Davenport became President of The University of Western Ontario back in 1994 the school had a reputation as a bit of a party school.  That reputation was something Dr. Davenport set out to change.  The slogan “best student experience at a research-intensive university” was meant to show a balance between Western’s “enjoyable student atmosphere” (read: rowdy shenanigans) and its outstanding academic record.  That Dr. Davenport served as President for fifteen years (a feat only exceeded by W. Sherwood Fox and George Hall who both served 20-year terms) is a testament to his success.

However, a recent survey of Western alumni shows that the school’s reputation has floundered.  Western is seen once again as a party school, and this coming from people who attended this institution back when it was in its partying heyday.  Western’s VP-External, Kevin Goldthorpe, has made it his responsibility to change that perception.

In this writer’s opinion a good place to start would be providing events or a range of events that cater to all students.  Stop putting on events exclusively for the Richmond Row crowd and start putting on events for everyone, even those who don’t seem to care.

Events like this year's Avicii Frosh Week event only cater to select elements of the Western population.

Because what exactly are events like Avicii saying to people outside of that crowd?  Events like that, when they are all that’s being run, tell alumni, parents, and interested parties everywhere that the school is more focused on getting wasted and listening to a guy play music by clicking a button on his MacBook than being academically-focused and promoting creativity.  The USC’s partnership with Premier Life and other promoters to put on the event points to a culture that is driven by the downtown bars, not by academic excellence and the pursuit of knowledge.

You might ask what having varied events might change about this picture?  After all, having different events does not necessarily mean more studying is going on.  What can change is the way student life at Western is perceived by those outside the Western bubble, not to mention making the lives of those inside it more enjoyable.  Let’s take the Arts/Music event of last night as an example.  There was no drinking involved, no promoters, the money for the event came from students, and the content was wholly student-driven.  It was, as you might say, good, clean, wholesome fun.  It was just a bunch of students innocently enjoying their Friday night.

To broaden the picture a bit more, having varied events showcases that the administration and student government actually care about what all students want instead of doing whatever they want and hoping students like it as well.  And one thing that many studies on academic performance indicate is that happy students do well in their studies.  Students who feel left out, who don’t have a good student experience, don’t.

In short, caring about students goes a long way to bandaging your damaged reputation.  Not caring got us the reputation we have now.

I was searching through my computer harddrive today and I came across this gem that I wrote back in second year.  It’s short, but sweet.

Dessert is defined as either “cake, pie, fruit, pudding, ice cream, etc., served as the final course of a meal” or “a serving of fresh fruit after the main course of a meal.” Pizza, on the other hand, is defined as “a flat, open-faced baked pie of Italian origin, consisting of a thin layer of bread dough topped with spiced tomato sauce and cheese.” In this paper I will argue that the two are mutually exclusive: that is to say that what has been commonly referred to as dessert pizza is not actually pizza.

We should start by unpacking our definitions. Taking pizza, we can say that for something to be pizza, it must a) be flat, b) be baked, c) have a bread-based crust, d) have tomato sauce, and e) have cheese. A dessert must be served as the final course of the meal. We could also add on to our conditions for pizza that it be served as part of the main course, as that seems the most logical order in which to eat a pizza. However, that condition is not essential to the argument at hand.

A dessert pizza, the catalyst for this discussion, does not meet the criteria that we have laid out for a thing to be pizza. Sure, it is flat, baked, and usually has a bread-based crust, but it lacks the cheese and tomato sauce required to be actual pizza. One particular dessert pizza recipe calls for cookie dough, whipped cream, bananas, strawberries, pineapples, and grapes. The only thing in those ingredients that we would find on an actual pizza is pineapple. If we were to call a dessert pizza actual pizza, ignoring the need to satisfy all of the conditions, we would then be forced to call anything that is flat and on bread pizza as well. Therefore, we could call toast with peanut butter pizza by the same logic. However, we know that toast with peanut butter is not pizza and to say so is absurd, just like it is absurd to call dessert pizza actual pizza when it does not fulfill all the criteria required for it to be pizza.

Of contention in this matter is that both pizza and dessert are defined as being some sort of pie and that in and of itself is fine. Pie, in this case, refers to the general shape and method of preparing the dishes in question: it is flat, baked, and usually round. It makes no claims as to content, but the rest of our definitions do. Our definition of pizza states that it must contain tomato sauce and cheese. Our first definition of dessert implies some sort of sweet content while our second definition specifies that it contain fresh fruit. The definition of dessert is less rigid, but still does not entitle us to conclude that pizza and dessert are consistent.

While dessert pizza is undoubtedly a great idea, it is simply not possible for something to be both pizza and dessert. This argument has been undertaken, personal tastes aside, in the interest of properly defining our foods to ensure that when one orders from a foreign menu, one knows just exactly what they are ordering. No one wants to order a dessert pizza and, expecting a delightful take on a time-tested classic combination of bread, cheese, and tomato sauce, be treated to an assault of frightening fruit placed on a bed of whipped cream. It just isn’t right.

Who wears more padding? A Stormtrooper from Star Wars or a NFL player?

In Grade Ten, I played American Football.

I have hated the game ever since.

Make no mistakes, American Football has never been one of my favourite sports.  I joined the team mainly due to peer pressure.  It didn’t take long to confirm that it just wasn’t the sport for me, but I have never been able to pinpoint exactly why I hated it.

Part of it might have been the endless stoppages.  Part of it might have been having different “teams” to play different parts of the game.  Part of it might have been the equipment designed to hurt players under the guise of being protection.  I could never pinpoint it exactly.

Now, almost 6 years later, I can finally understand why I hate the game so vehemently that I can barely call it a sport or acknowledge it as a form of football.

Simply put and with all due respect, American Football is a game for idiots.  It is a game that engages a minimal amount of the brain capacity of its players.  It is a game where any meaningful decision that requires any amount of thought is made by some 60-something standing on the sidelines in a tracksuit.  The only thought process required of a player is “Hit hard” or “Run fast.”

For example, in Sports Illustrated’s NFL Preview edition a story was run titled “What Ever Happened to Tackling?”  (It was billed on the cover as “The Lost Art of Tackling.”)  The main purpose of the article was to bemoan the degradation of tackling as a technical skill in the NFL, but it was also a showcase of just why American Football is not a thinking man’s sport.

An example of the "arrow through snow" tackling mentality.

Coaches in the NFL teach their players not to think.  They teach them to tackle in one way: straight up and as hard as possible, consequences be damned so long as you hit the guy hard enough to knock him down.  Specifically, Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson would teach his players to, according to cornerback Sheldon Brown, “just keep running through like knives” and, according to fellow coach John Harbaugh, “attack like an arrow through snow.”

In this type of philosophy, there is no thought.  There is only action.  A player is trained to be a heat-seeking missile and once the switch is flipped (read: whistle blown) automatically hunt down any opposition ball carriers.  The technique taught, as bemoaned in the article (in reality tackling technique in the NFL has only really devolved from ‘hit the guy as hard as you can with your shoulder’ to ‘hit the guy as hard as you can’), is non-existent.  The full extent of it is ‘be an irresistable force.’

Compare this to American Football’s genealogical predecessor, Rugby Union.

A technically sound tackle such as this one will allow the tackler to reagain his feet quickly and compete for the ball.

Due to the nature of the game, the big hit that has so wowed American audiences in the NFL, College Football, and high school Friday Night leagues across the country is largely eschewed in rugby in favour of a more technically sound, safer form of tackling.  Players tackle with their shoulders instead of charging full-bore into the opposition.  When they do charge full-bore they risk leaving a large hole in defense.   Not charging full-bore and holding a defensive shape requires thought.  It also results in far less injuries involving tackles than what is seen in American Football.

Furthermore, due to the continuous nature of rugby, tacklers must tackle in such a way to either not commit a penalty for disrupting the opposition or inflict a turnover on the opposition.  This requires thought about body position, angles, time, and the laws of the game.  The tackler must process how the opposition ball carrier is coming at them in order to ascertain how best to end up in a favourable position to complete a turnover.  Do they go high and hope to hold the ball up or stay on their own feet?  Do they go low and have to scramble back to their feet before contesting the ball?  Do they have time to even contemplate a turnover or should they just focus on rolling away and re-taking their place in the defensive line?

This level of thought is not required of an American Football player, even on the offensive side of the ball.

On offense, plays are most often called by the coaches on the sidelines.  The thinking is done on the sidelines, all the players have to do is execute.  And still that execution involves no more thought than “run into this gap,” “throw to receiver x,” or “catch the ball.”  As a thinking man’s game, offense in American Football is light-years behind sports such as Hockey, Association Football, or even Curling that demand their players make the key decisions in real-time.

It must be said that some thought goes into the mind games played between the offense and defense at the line of scrimmage, but that is merely a by-product of decisions made on either sideline.  It is not independent thought as such, but rather a necessary outcome of 22 grown men trying to keep each other in the dark.

Peyton Manning makes coaches obsolete by being one of the only true "thinking" American Football players.

Therefore, as a product of the game’s inherent devaluation of intelligence, there are very few examples of players who can be truly classified as smart players.  Peyton Manning is one (why the Indianapolis Colts even bother with an Offensive Coordinator and/or Quarterbacks Coach is beyond me…).  Green Bay Packer cornerback Charles Woodson is another.  Manning is the only quarterback in the league who truly calls his own plays, often at the line of scrimmage seconds before the ball is snapped, and Woodson is the pioneer of tacklers who think enough to try and strip the ball – thus causing a valuable turnover – in the process of making a tackle instead of following Johnson’s “arrow through snow” method.

Now, American Football fans might try and turn the title of this article against me and argue that American Football isn’t supposed to be about thought, but rather passion.  And that’s fine.  In my opinion, a sport bereft of passion is just as lacking as a sport bereft of thought.  But where does that argument take us?  It is an admittance of a flaw to be sure, since if thought and passion are our two criteria for what makes a good sport it then follows that having only one cannot be better than having both.  No amount of passion can overcome a lack of thought.  It will always be the case that thought plus passion will be better than either of thought or passion on their own.

But I digress.  This article is about why I don’t like American Football.  Those who do like American Football are free to like it as they so choose and for whatever reasons they want.  I long ago realized that, despite my vehement hatred of the sport and everything it stands for, there are many people out there that do like it.  Those people don’t need me telling them that their favourite sport sucks (they already have to put up with watching it for heaven’s sake!!).

It may have taken me six years, but I can now truly understand why I hate American Football.  I value sports that combine thought with passion.  I value sports that don’t require their players to perform like automatons, performing simple functions without thought for the greater picture.

I also value sports where the players don’t celebrate after performing those simple functions like they single-handedly won the Second World War…