Archive for November, 2006

Writing an abstract

This is based on my experience as an undergraduate TA. I thought I would share what I’ve put together to help students understand what an abstract does if they’ve never done one before. An abstract is brief, clear, and concise. It gives the reader enough information to know what an article is about but not so much that they can cite it just from the abstract without reading the article.

A lot of abstracts are set up to provide the following information:

A: What does the piece do – what does it explain, address, discuss ? This part often starts with something like, “This essay/article examines….”

B: Some background, what the reader needs to know – brief, but enough so the reader knows if it might be what they are looking for, if they should keep reading.

C: How does your paper do what it does? Does it analyze data or experiences?

D: What sources, theories, etc. does your paper draw upon to make its conclusions (and why these, not others) — and everyone’s favourite bit: What is the thesis??

Here is a really clear example:

Resisting Neo-Liberalism: the Poisoned Water Disaster in Walkerton, Ontario
Laureen Snider
Queen’s University, Canada

{{section A}} This article examines how relations of governance generate particular forms of resistance, and the mechanisms through which resistance can reconfigure governance. It seeks to clarify actual and potential links between resistance, transformative politics and ameliorative change. {{section B}} Empirically it documents an environmental disaster in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada, when seven people died and 2300 became ill after E. Coli contaminated public drinking water in May of 2000. Following a Public Inquiry and nine months of Hearings, the intensely critical O’Connor Report explained the disaster as resulting from policies adopted by Ontario’s neo-liberal government and its ‘Common Sense Revolution’. The Report forced government to re-regulate and restaff the Ministry of the Environment. {{Section C}} To understand how this critical narrative was produced and why it was heard, the article situates the Inquiry process in its historical, cultural and political context. {{Section D}} Focusing on two particular forms of knowledge/power, science and law, it argues that the universalistic truth claims of science were allied with the normative and procedural claims of law to challenge hegemonic power and interrogate the truth claims of neo-liberal government. Resistance in this case took local form, but its roots and resonance came from history, timing, and world-wide struggles against globalization, free trade and the ever-expanding American empire.

If you try to answer those questions clearly and concisely your abstract should write itself.

Site update: new look for femilicious

It’s been almost a year and a half since femilicious was born and I felt that it was time for a new look. This new theme is based on Freedom Blue by Frank Helmschrott. I chose this theme after searching off and on for a few weeks for something that wouldn’t need too much tweaking to get a look and feel I like, and in one afternoon I have something I think I can live with for awhile.

Besides changing some colours, one of the changes I made to get this theme up was to change the German text to English. I doubt it would slow down an avid blog reader but I’m not sure how many people understand the German for “submit a comment” and “email required”. I didn’t know I did until I was doing it. There are still a few words here and there that need translation to English and I’ll get to these soon. It’s just a matter of hunting down which files hold the text and editing them.

There was also an error in the Archives.php file – I had to change the id to match the other pages so that the content would wrap inside the left-hand div. The id is misnamed so if you’re trying to get this theme working on your own site change

<div id="content">


<div id="contentwrap">

in the fourth line of code. Once this is changed the body will sit in the left div and the sidebar will return to the right.

One of the things I like about this theme is that the divs set the main content first and the sidebar information follows. This is really important for browsing without a stylesheet. It’s not just for Naked Day anymore; people browsing from mobile devices or with a speech reader don’t want to scroll through/listen to your entire blogroll, archives, and categories before they get to your new post. If you want to see how your divs are laid out, one easy way is install the Web Developer Toolbar for Firefox, then on the CSS tab select Disable Styles then choose All Styles. You can get a pretty good idea here of what your site will look like to someone with a text only browser. If things are not good you can fix it by rearranging your divs so the most important content comes first and controlling presentation with floats.

I decided to try out a random html flickr badge for some colour and life. It’s also for my own benefit as a happiness generator. It makes me happy to see pictures that I took on vacation or somewhere else fun. There were some problems finding a placement for the badge that didn’t throw the entire site presentation out of whack. I had originally thought to place it in the header but had a much easier time setting it at the top of the main style template after the call for the get_header function. Opera and MSInternet Explorer didn’t like the having CSS information in the php file so I had to cut it out and move it into the stylesheet. Now that I’ve done that it’s looking good in Opera but MSIE still needs a bit of tweaking. MSIE is a nightmare for incompatibilities. For that reason, if you’re not already using it, you might want to get firefox - it will make your life so much better, and not just if you’re developing for the web. For added browsing pleasure, install AdBlock Plus and you can take advertising right out of your life.

I still want to bring back the categories list and the blogroll but those need a bit more work so they’ll have to wait for another day. If you find a glaring mess in any browser please leave a comment.

Update: Right above the comment text box are some buttons whose labels were in German until an few minutes ago. The values for the buttons were in a separate javascript file, sitting in wp-content / themes / this theme and lo-and-behold there it was. I knew it was javascript and that it was somewhere but it took me awhile to find it. I’ve changed those to English now as well. If you mouseover you can read the German. Enjoy.

Say thank you

I found this post in my draft folder. Since I just lost the wonderful post I’d written about citing wikipedia I decided to look back and see what’s just sitting around getting stale. I opened this one because it had an interesting title and I wanted to see what I was so happy about that it got a post. It’s especially good to read since I’m at the end of another semester. Here it is, from last April 13, 2006:

I’ve been sick. Sicker than I can remember being in a long time. I seem to catch a cold or something every end of semester. Between the due dates and not having time to eat right or take care of myself, something always gives, and that is usually me.

But even when I’m sick there are responsibilities. The kids can make cold cereal and hot pasta but haven’t really had to figure out broccoli yet. I somehow managed to keep them fed and clean but it’s all a bit blurry now. I’ve been lucid for a few hours in between fevers so that’s when it must have happened.

The most wonderful thing happened on Tuesday night though. I had classes at the U all afternoon and then I taught my ballet lessons. This was actually just before I realized how sick I was going to get. I headed to Rob’s after my last lesson and when I got there he had a hot bath waiting for me. It was exactly what I needed. Thanks Rob.

So I feel bad I never posted it back in April, but I must have gotten pulled away by child or chore or school. Here it is now, better late than never – and thanks again. I still remember that day.

Addressing race, class, and sexuality in the environmental movement

The environmental movement has inadequately addressed issues of race, class, and sexuality. The feminist movement has only recently identified the need to consider race, class, and sexuality, and made concentrated efforts to be inclusive in their concerns, structures, and practices. As the environmental movement faces increasing pressure to align itself with social justice issues and to adopt a human welfare ecology model, the relationship of environmental degradation and human degradation will come more and more to the forefront.

Dorceta Taylor identifies that the environmental movement’s early history focused on issues of conservation and recreation (53). These were issues of concern primarily to white, middle-class people with disposable income and time for leisure. Some people interpreted this as people of colour’s apathy regarding the environment (Taylor 58, Seager, 182). Their issues sat outside recreation and leisure, instead focusing on community survival and social injustice. The narrow focus of the early environmental groups resulted in a movement that precluded the participation of people of colour. The founding environmental movement had a romanticized notion of the wilderness and a need to protect and preserve it as a place of relaxation and freedom. It was not until the 1980s that environmentalists’ interest turned to social justice and human welfare ecology (Taylor, 53). When environment was redefined as the space around us, rather than a romanticized, distant place, people of colour and of lower socio-economic status identified the environmental hazards and toxic dumping grounds, which poisoned their work and home lives as environmental issues (Seager 183, Taylor 54).

The environmental movement has a history of tokenism. Many environmental groups have wanted to present a face of diversity without adopting inclusive mandates and projects. Discrimination also takes the form of groups looking for ‘white’ people of colour: those who are English speakers, educated in the West, and who are less likely to challenge the status quo of a mostly white group, concerned with mostly white issues.

The least powerful people in society are the hardest hit by environmental degradation (Alston and Brown 179). Alston and Brown identify the less powerful as those populations who are non-white, uneducated, and/or have lower socio-economic status (Alston & Brown 179). Often this family will be forced to choose between earning a living and protecting themselves from environmental health risks. These groups face a greater risk of exposure to toxins, environmental hazards, and mysterious illnesses (Taylor 54). Environmental groups are only just recognizing technology practices that place marginalized groups in proximity to dangerous toxins.

War causes death and the environment is among the casualties. Procedures like the “scorched earth policy” cause massive deforestation (Alston & Brown 180). War also causes soil erosion, climate changes, a destruction of natural resources, and water shortages, leading to disease (Alston & Brown 180). Wars displace people to urban areas further stressing the land. The lasting effects of chemical defoliants and weapons cause birth defects (Alston & Brown 180). The victims of war suffer during and after war: deaths of loved ones, loss of property and for women war often brings rape and pregnancy. Treatments and surgeries for diseases and birth defects are only available to those with resources. Most victims cannot afford treatment which making class an environmental justice issue. Environmental groups are realizing the relationship between the environment and victims of war. Newly politicized groups like Doctors without Borders realize that they cannot heal people who are surrounded by warfare and lacking resources like clean water.

Less powerful groups of people are often exploited for their land and resources. No one asked the First Nations people of (now) Nevada to allow underground nuclear testing on their land (Alston & Brown 183). They and many other indigenous groups have seen their land destroyed by nuclear weapon testing (Alston & Brown 183). International waste trade ships the refuse from privileged groups to other countries that are only beginning to object (Alston & Brown 185). Medicinal flora is harvested and patented by industrialized countries without consultation with the indigenous people who cultivated its use in health and healing (Alston & Brown 190-91). All of these practices exploit marginalized groups for the profit of others. These environmental issues need attention.

There are still women’s issues that need attention. Sexual health issues, for example the impact of xenoestrogens on women’s reproductive health, have barely been addressed. Also saddening is the history of sexism in the environmental movement. As issues are mainstreamed, men take over and profit from women’s volunteer grassroots organizing (Seager 178). The environment is big business and men run the large environmental organizations (Seager 178).

Women’s experiences of oppression share many parallels with the experiences of marginalized people and the environment: the story of exploited people and resources. As environmental activists realize that environmental justice is interlinked with social justice they will be able to learn from the lessons of the feminist movement. The lessons from and the politicization of women’s lived experiences (Heller 41-42) demonstrate the need to make room for the lived experiences of people of colour and people with less privilege (Taylor 58). As we approach this reality, the same dilemma will face the environmental movement that faced feminists: uniting people in different geographic locations, with differing concerns and facing different barriers, but all at the hand of those with power. Combined with the necessity of the privileged to reject middle-class consumption, it is through alliances that environmental recovery will be possible.

Works Cited

Alston, Dana & Nicole Brown “Global Threats to People of Color”
Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots.
R.D. Bullard, Ed. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 1993. 179-194.

Heller, Chaia. “Reflection on the Ecofeminist Desire for Nature”
Ecology of Everyday Life: Rethinking the Desire for Nature.
Montréal: Black Rose Books. 1999. 39-66.

Seager, Joni. “The Ecology Establishment.” Earth Follies: Coming to Feminist Terms with the Global Environmental Crisis. Kentucky, USA: Routledge. 1994. 167-221.

Taylor, Dorceta E. “Environmentalism and the Politics of Inclusion”
Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots.
R.D. Bullard, Ed. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 1993. 53-61.

The Disease called Poverty

Here’s what I’d like to know:

For how long can a person be really really poor and still actually one day not live in poverty?

There are plenty of overnight success stories floating around and the ever present protestant work ethic mentality: if you work hard you will succeed. But how many of the success stories are mythical? The work ethic is bogus – plenty of people work really really hard and never get above the poverty line. Having money comes from many things, very little of that is working hard.

Is there ever a point where people have been so poor for so long that they can’t even contemplate how much money it would take to change lifestyles? Does the time come when scrimping and saving and cutting corners becomes so ingrained that new ways of thinking are impossible?

There are stories that float around of people who died and then are discovered to have been rich, but they lived in such a way that no one would ever have known. Did they get so used to being poor that anything else was too alien?

What is the cure for poverty and poverty-mentality?

In another life

In another life I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. This was back in grade 11 physics, which I loved. My teacher recognized that and talked to me about engineering, and I was drawn in to aerospace. I wanted to make rockets. I was sure that this is what I would do until I discovered art and teenage angst the next year and it was downhill more or less from there. Over the next year and a half I took every visual art and music class my school offered. I started working for a semi-pro theatre company and after graduation I ended up in a BFA dance program in Toronto for a few months. I dropped out of that after midterms first semester, got married, was a starving artist for a few years, had some babies, got divorced, and am now almost done a Women’s Studies degree.

I hate how much I’ve forgotten. I work peripherally now in all these tech capacities without much grasp of the foundations. There is so much backbone work that I can’t do. I took computer science in high school and programmed in BASIC (wooooahhh, time warp) and was good at it – enjoyed it even, but I’m no coder now – not a hope.

Next semester I take a basic C programming course to finish an IT minor – and I both dread it and am nervously anticipating it. The anxiety comes from realizing it’s been over 15 years since I’ve done any type of programming/math – and I’m scared. I know I don’t remember how to think that way and I worry how hard I’ll have to work to catch up. My application to grad school (still undecided there) is also dependent on my last semester marks. If I blow my GPA now, there’s no making it up.

But on the other hand, I remember the thrill of an elegant proof and the excitement of geometry – I really loved this stuff. How can a brain forget how to do this? How do we just let a part of our brain fall dormant? Is it dead? Can it come back? How far could I go?

I don’t know that I can look at this the way I did in highschool. Now my time is finite. If I don’t finish something in an hour there often isn’t another hour later when I can come back to it. I don’t have the luxury of closing my bedroom door and working on problems all night – what if I can’t do it anymore? What if I lost my chance?

I wonder about doing a CS degree now, after my women’s studies is done. I don’t have the prereqs. Once I discovered ‘art’ I had to forego calculus. To get into the program I’d have to catch up the highschool credits I missed – even that makes me wonder. It would be wild to spin my brain in those circles again, but at what cost?

Driving too slow

I went to a grad school workshop today (not inspiring). And then I read this from Joel Spolsky, posted a week and a half ago on Joel on Software. The combination of the two is pretty bad.

You see, if you can’t whiz through the easy stuff at 100 m.p.h., you’re never gonna get the advanced stuff.

I think what JS is saying applies to a lot more than writing code, getting an A in Calculus, trading bonds, or getting hired. I read this as JS believes that people who work too hard at the basics are in the wrong field. I’m not sure where exactly the basics end and the advanced work begins in the Humanities and Social Sciences, but I know I’m working way too hard. JS’s words are plenty helpful for the person hiring, or the person who is an ace applicant, but for the rest of us? For those of us who didn’t get A+ in our last 20 undergrad courses?

The speaker at the workshop kept going over how important it is to reapply if at first rejected: from funding, from schools, etc. That if it’s where you really want to be you’ll get it eventually, through tweaking your materials, focusing or shifting a research interest, by finding a more appropriate advisor. But I wonder, how many years can a person can keep going through it? I mean, don’t we all have student loans that have to be paid back? We can’t just keep reapplying to grad school, hoping we’ll get in sooner or later…