Saturday, November 21, 2015

The 35% minimum

An article about the Catholic school board introducing a minimum mid-term report card grade of 35% gave me a lot of questions, despite the fact that it's completely irrelevant to me

First, I found myself wondering how common this situation even is!

How many students are actually getting a mark of under 35%?  How many of them are going to be able to pull their mark up to a pass by the end of the semester?  And why 35%, of all numbers?

Also, when I was in school at least, teachers entered the mark for each assignment into a spreadsheet, which weighted them accordingly and calculated the student's overall mark.  The overall mark was not subjective; it was the mathematical result of the mark one each test and assignment.  Because of this, you could figure out how many points you needed to get on an assignment or exam or during the rest of the semester to reach a certain grade.  (During bouts of senioritis, this was also used to calculated where you could slack off.)

So if a student's real total is under 35% but their report card shows 35%, they might use the 35% to calculate how well they need to do in the second semester to pass the whole course.  But if they really have some unknown number less than 35%, they won't get the mark they expect when all the numbers are plugged into the teacher's spreadsheet. Is there some mechanism in place to address this problem?

I'm labelling this post "journalism wanted" because, even though the situation has nothing to do with me, I left the article with way more questions than I went in with.  And if I have all these questions, surely the people affected have even more.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Toilet plungers

I was in a Home Hardware (where I don't shop very often, because it's less convenient than many other stores), and one of the items I was looking for was Draino. (An occupational hazard of having long hair!)  I looked on the shelf with all the other household cleaning products (which is where it always is in supermarkets and drug stores), but couldn't find it.  So I asked an employee, and he took me to the very, very back of the store, where there was an assortment of drain decloggers alongside a wall of toilet plungers.

Which raises the question: why are the toilet plungers at the very, very back of the store?  The items at the very, very back tend to be those that you need the help of expert employees for (i.e. the middle-aged full-timer with half a dozen DIY renovations under their belt, not the teenager stocking the shelves), and toilet plungers don't seem to fall into that category.

So why are they at the very, very back? Walk of shame? Or are they frequently shoplifted by people trying to avoid a walk of shame?

Or are they just trying to make sure people don't think it's a poo shop?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition VIII

I was trying to brainstorm this one a while back, but a simple, elegant solution came to me in the shower.

12.  If you lie to someone about their own thoughts, feelings, motives or experiences, you have to shut up for 24 hours. You are not allowed to talk in the presence of the person to whom you lied about themselves during this time. If the lie was communicated by mass media or another non-verbal medium, you're not allowed to use the medium in question in a way that will enter their sphere of awareness for the next 24 hours.  So if you tweeted the lie, you can't tweet for 24 hours. If you mentioned it in a TV interview, you can't talk on TV for 24 hours.  (So if you're a politician campaigning, be careful when you say "Torontonians want X")

For every subsequent offence, this 24-hour period is doubled (e.g. 48 hours for the second offence, 96 hours for the third offence, etc.)

The person to whom you lied about themselves is has the discretion to permit you to respond to a direct query on a case by case basis, but if you lie to them during this time it counts as a subsequent offence, and the punishment for the subsequent offence is doubled.  Sentences are served consecutively. (e.g. If, during the 24-hour period following your first lie, they give you permission to respond to a direct query and you lie to them about themselves in your response, you have to serve another 96 hours after the first 24 hours expires.)

13. Sometimes, people who say assholic things claim that they're the only one brave enough to express that opinion, when in reality no one else is even thinking those assholic thoughts.

People who do this should be treated like they're too cowardly to do every single thing that it has never occurred to them to do, with whatever the attendant social consequences of not being brave are in their circle.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Paternity and participation

Just a few of the many thing that exist in the world:

1. People who think that a good sense of humour means not holding back when it occurs to you to make a joke, and that uttering every potentially-humorous thing that occurs to you, no matter how worthy or advisable, is laudable.
2. People who think that being present in your children's lives is sufficient to constitute good parenting.
3. People who think it's disgraceful that Kids Today allegedly get trophies for participation.

I've noticed that Category 1 seems to correlate with fatherhood, to the extent that really pathetic jokes that aren't even worth the breath it takes to utter them are called "dad jokes"

I've noticed that Category 2 seems to correlate with fatherhood, to the extent that people think the character of Cliff Huxtable is an exemplar of fatherhood solely on the grounds that he's seen on screen interacting with his children.

And, in my own experience, the majority of people (or, at least, the loudest segment) in Category 3 are men. I don't know how many of them are fathers, but most fathers are men.

So I find myself wondering how many people fall into all three categories, wanting kudos for mere participation in humour and/or fatherhood, but complaining when the same thing is offered to their children.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Help write the next New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition

Last week's Carolyn Hax chat mentions in various places parents scolding adult children with variations on "That's not how I raised you!" (They're scattered throughout the chat - easiest way to find them is by doing a Ctrl+F for "raise".)

This statement does a lot of things.  It disregards the adult child's very selfhood by treating their choices like nothing more than the result of the parent's input rather than being a function of their own personality and decisions and humanity.  But then it turns around and, with tone and delivery blames and scolds the adult child for the input not having been adequate to produce the desired output.

If you point out this logical fallacy by pointing out that, within that framework, it's the parents fault that they didn't get the desired outcome and therefore not something to scold the adult child about, you're accepting the parent's premise that the adult child isn't a human being with their own selfhood and is instead merely the result of the parent's input.  If you point out that when you have a human child the result is an autonomous human being, that simply intensifies whatever they're scolding about in the first place.

It's dehumanizing and based on a logical fallacy that feeds upon itself.  I think it needs a natural consequence but can't think of one at the moment.


The Toronto Star ipad app problem

The Toronto Star recently came out with an ipad app, and they seem to be pushing it pretty hard, perhaps even prioritizing it over everything else.

The problem is that this renders some content inaccessible to people who don't have ipads.

If an ipad user tweets an article from the Star, it provides a link to the ipad version.  If you're reading on a computer, it doesn't autodetect that and direct you to the web version, or provide a link at the bottom to the full version like many mobile websites do. The ipad link doesn't always provide the full text of the article, and (so far, at least) when I've searched the Star website for the headline or the lede, it hasn't turned up anything. 

There have even been one or two times when an article is teased in the print version of the newspaper, and they tell you to go to the ipad version for the full story!

So it seems that there are Toronto Star articles that can't be read in the print newspaper, on a computer, on a non-ipad tablet, or on a non-ipad i-device. They can only be read on an ipad.

Which is not a negligible inconvenience for people who don't need or can't afford ipads!

An ipad costs several hundred dollars. (Currently, the prices in the Apple Store range from $329 to $1429.)  My experience with other Apple products has been that I can only get a few years of use out of them, and I see no indication that this would be any different for ipads.

So the Star is creating a situation where, to get access to all the journalism in your local daily, you need to pay at least $100 a year to another, unaffiliated corporation for a device that you may well have no other need for.

Do the owners of the Toronto Star own Apple stock?

I'm also wondering how this will affect googleability and archivability. Since I can't seem to get at them via web, it seems they aren't googleable. Can you access old articles in the app, or does it give you solely today's content? (I have no idea, because I don't have an ipad.)  Do they turn up in library periodical indices so they'll be available to people doing historical research in the future?  If the Star writes an article about your kid's awesome science project or gives your play a glowing review, is there a way to save the article for posterity? Even after the ipad is obsolete?

Puddle-proofing crosswalks

In the winter, big slushy puddles tend to form in crosswalks, making things difficult for everyone. Pedestrians crossing at the crosswalk have to attempt a grand jeté or ruin their boots, people walking near the intersection get splashed by passing cars, it's just no good at all.

So what if they put the storm sewers actually in the crosswalk, where the water seems to want to be?

If it would cause accessibility issues, they could put the sewer grates at the apex of the corner, where it would be directly in your path if you were trying to cross diagonally but easily avoidable if you're crossing within the crosswalk. 

Another option would be to raise the corner of the road slightly.  Maybe instead of having a cutaway on the sidewalk, they could raise the level of the road and create a ramp within the gutter zone rather than within the sidewalk zone, or maybe they could meet each other halfway.  Then water would have no reason to accumulate right where people are walking. 

Another option would be to have the entire gutters be lower than the road but covered with a grate at road level.  So instead of the water flowing along the road until it reaches a storm sewer (and causing puddles if it reaches an impasse), it flows along below road level, and has a lot more leeway before it causes disruptive puddles.

It's time for a more realistic First World War narrative

A while back I read an article (which I'm kicking myself for not bookmarking!) postulating that the people of Great Britain were so psychologically traumatized, individually and collectively, by waste and horror and pointlessness of the First World War, that society collectively imposed a meaningful narrative upon it. They just couldn't cope with the idea that all this waste had been for nothing, so over the "Never Again" message intended by the creators of Remembrance Day, they superimposed glamorous sepia-toned Dashing Young Heroes, Fighting For Our Freedom.

That explains so much!

But, while I do thoroughly empathize with the need to control your narrative to get through the day, it's getting to be time to retire that narrative.  The last surviving WWI veteran died in 2012, at the age of 110. If there are any WWI survivors left in the world, they're pushing the century mark and, because they were so young at the time, may not even remember the war.  We're either approaching or have already passed the point where there's no one left whose psychological trauma needs to be attended to with this more-meaningful narrative.

The 100th anniversary of the end of WWI is coming up in a few short years.  Think pieces will be written. All we have to do is not include the sepia-toned heroism in the think pieces.  Talk instead about waste and tragedy. Talk about how it didn't even need to be a war, even by the standards by which things sometimes need to be a war.  Talk about how the ignorance of eager young recruits and the short-sightedness of governments led them to charge in, expecting a Jolly Good Adventure, with no idea what they were getting into. Talk about how this all destroyed individuals and families and communities and societies and physically broke Europe and created the conditions that gave rise to nazism.  Maybe even talk some more about how people at the time had to impose a narrative of meaning and purpose to cope with their psychological trauma.

The unfortunate side effect of this imposition of a narrative of meaning on WWI has been that the waste, horror and pointlessness are not as much at the forefront of subsequent generations' minds as they should be. This creates a situation where subsequent generations are just as ignorant as the WWI-era recruits and governments who charged in expecting a Jolly Good Adventure and ended up in hell. And this ignorance may well affect decisions about whether to get involved in future warfare - thinking that WWI had purpose affects our mental ratio of "purpose vs. pointlessness of war", so we might be more likely to see purpose (or assume there must be purpose even though we can't see it) in a potential future war.

By restoring a more accurate narrative of pointlessness and waste, we'll reduce the chance of making the same mistakes in the future, which is the best way to honour all those who were killed or destroyed in or by the First World War.

What if some copies of popular library books didn't have a space on the shelf?

If you follow me on twitter, you know I've been getting irritated with the Toronto Public Library having only ebooks and no print copies of certain titles. I find reading electronically inconvenient, and the app you have to use to read library ebooks extra inconvenient. So far, if a book hasn't been available in print, I just haven't added it to my list.

But I was quite baffled to find that Down the Rabbit Hole, the anthology containing the latest In Death novella, is not available in print at all!  In Death is a long-running series with over 50 titles, and every single title, including the anthologies containing the other novellas, is available from the library in print. But not this one.  Even the next book, Brotherhood in Death, which isn't due to come out until February, is already on order and holdable in print.  There's certainly precedent!

This is especially mysterious since the library has publicly spoken out against unfairly high ebook prices, so you'd think with ebooks being unfairly expensive they buy more print copies and fewer electronic copies.  (Or, since libraries are given a limited number of uses for each copy of an ebook they buy, they'd at least give customers the option of reading on paper if that's what they prefer.)  In the press release, the Chief Librarian is quoted as saying "Ensuring universal access to information in all its forms is key to public libraries’ mandate."  Surely ensuring access to information in all its forms includes in print!

But a comment conversation here made me think that the reason for not getting paper copies of everything might be lack of physical shelf space! Which gave me an idea...

If the problem is in fact shelf space, what if, for books where the library acquires a large number of copies and anticipates many times that number of holds, a certain number of copies aren't assigned a space on a shelf in a branch?  They just circulate throughout the holds system and are sent to the next customer in the holds queue. These kinds of titles rarely make it to a library shelf in the first few months of their life anyway - they're either checked out, on a hold shelf, or in transit.  Perhaps the computer could be programmed to prioritize these "non-shelf" books when allocating which book will respond to the next hold.  This would also increase the likelihood that "shelf" books (i.e. those that are assigned a space on a shelf in a branch) will be found by customers who are browsing the shelves, rather than being off circulating in hold land.

Once the ratio of holds to available copies gets below a certain threshold, the non-shelf books are pulled from circulation and sold, as already happens eventually with a certain number of copies of books with high initial demand.

So what does this achieve?  If not all copies of high-demand, high-circulation books need a space on the shelf, there's more space on the shelf for other books.  So titles that are perhaps less important and have less demand can have just a few spaces on the shelf, thereby making it possible to have a non-zero number of print copies and for customers to enjoy the book in their preferred medium.

For example, the library currently has 138 copies of Devoted in Death, the full-length In Death novel that comes before Down the Rabbit Hole. Currently, there are 45 holds on this title, but almost all the copies are checked out (and those that aren't are on the Best Bets shelf), so if some of the copies of this book were non-shelf, they'd still be doing their job, two months after release date, and probably for at least another month (assuming no new holds).

When Down the Rabbit Hole was first released, there were 80 holds for the 20 available copies, which means it will take 4 lending periods (12 weeks) for everyone to get a chance to read it. Let's use a conservative estimate that 10% of those holds are people who would prefer to read in print but are putting a hold on the only version available. (I suspect it's far more given the hold patterns on previous anthologies, but for the moment let's assume the library has a good sense of where the demand is.)  If the library had just 2 print copies of Down the Rabbit Hole, these hypothetical 8 people who would rather have print copies could also get a chance to read the book in their preferred format within 4 lending periods, thereby providing equitable access in all formats.

If the library designated just two copies of Devoted in Death as non-shelf books, there would still be at least one copy for the shelves of each branch, and there'd also be room on the shelves for two print copies of Down the Rabbit Hole. The non-shelf books would be in full circulation for several months and then could be put straight into the used book sale - where maybe they could even charge a bit extra for them because they're still recent bestsellers.

If this were done on a larger scale, with a small number of non-shelf copies of high-demand titles, then perhaps the library could have one or two print copies of every book, so that everyone could access every title in their preferred format with no negative impact on the availability of high-demand titles.

Good morning!

Here's what I'm doing today and why.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

What if one day they'll accommodate intellectual disabilities like they do physical disabilities?

One of the reasons why I'm so obsessed about pensions is, if my grandmother's trajectory is any indicator, I'm looking at nearly 20 years between when dementia makes it impossible for me to work and when I finally die. 

In the shower this morning, it occurred to me that, with the aging population and declining economic security and employment quality, I'm not going to be the only person in this situation.  And, since the baby boomer generation will pass through this before I do, I'm not even going to be one of the first people in this situation.

What if all these factors align to create a society where dementia (and other intellectual disabilities) are seen as disabilities to be accommodated in the workplace, and the mechanisms for accommodation become common knowledge.

It sounds impossible now, but, (at least to those of us who aren't up on such things) most disabilities sound impossible to accommodate until someone figures out how and people get used to seeing it in action.  (How many of us would have thought of a seizure response dog, or running blades?)

With today's technology, I could continue to work as a translator if I lost my eyesight or if I lost my hands. And society is moving on a trajectory from less accommodation to more accommodation. Maybe one day they'll figure out a way to let me continue to work if I lost my mind.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Things They Should Invent: objective quality and maintenance standards for official residences

With the change of government and arrival of a new Prime Minister, 24 Sussex Drive has been in the news again.  Apparently it's in very poor condition and in need of extensive repairs, renovations and upgrades, but successive Prime Ministers have been reluctant to have the work done because they don't want to be seen spending public money on their residence.

A solution would be to set objective standards both for the quality level that needs to be maintained and the amount that needs to be invested in upgrade and renovating the building.  These standards would be set by people who are experts in building maintenance and heritage preservation, without any involvement by political leaders, so the Prime Minister (or, whenever possible, the National Capital Commission) is just following the rules.

As a starting point, here's a basic framework my shower gave me:

1. Baseline state-of-good-repair standard: This is your basic health, safety, functionality, and "this is the 21st century" standard. If the building doesn't meet this standard, it is to be immediately brought up to standard regardless of the price.  For example, the building needs to be free of asbestos and other poisons, have no leaks or infestations, warmer than 20 degrees in the winter and cooler than 25 degrees in the summer, etc.  Could be based on or inspired by similar existing standards for rental housing, public buildings, etc.  The decision to carry out these repairs is made without the involvement of the Prime Minister or their family, similar to how tenants often get notices from their landlords saying "We will be turning off the water for three hours on Tuesday to repair a leak." The baseline state-of-good-repair standard is reviewed and updated at a fixed interval, by non-political people who are qualified to make this kind of decision, to make sure it still reflects modern baseline expectations for housing and public buildings.

2. New resident refurbishment allowance: Every time a new Prime Minister moves in, they are permitted to spend a certain legislated amount of money adapting the house to their family's needs.  One option is that they're allowed to spend up to a certain limit on changes from a list approved by the National Capital Commission.  An option with less political fall-out (inspired by employers who give employees on business trips a per diem rather than having them file expense receipts) is to simply hand over the allowance, have the National Capital Commission provide a list of what changes are and aren't permitted, and the Prime Minister's family can do whatever they need to.  It might actually be more efficient that way by saving on red tape justifying why they need to paint this room yellow or put heavier curtains in that room.  The amount of the new resident refurbishment allowance is reviewed and updated at a fixed interval, by non-political people who are qualified to make this kind of decision, to make sure it still reflects the needs of a family moving into a new home.

3. Regularly scheduled renovation/upgrade fund: A set amount of money is available at a set interval for whatever renovations/upgrades the building needs most, beyond state of good repair.  The renovations/upgrades are decided jointly by the National Capital Commission and a representative of the current Prime Minister's household. (The optics would be better if there's a housekeeper or someone like that who is very familiar with how well the building works and fulfills its functions but doesn't benefit personally from any upgrades, but if there isn't any such person any resident would do.)  The amount of this fund is reviewed and updated at a fixed interval, by non-political people who are qualified to make this kind of decision. Depending on the amount and the frequency with which it is used, it may be permissible to bank it for later use, or borrow from the next round, if a major expense should arise.  Not every Prime Minister's household is necessarily involved in using this fund - just whoever happens to be Prime Minister when the time to use the fund rolls around. For example, if the fund is only used in years ending in 3, then Jean Chrétien's household would have used it twice (in 1993 and in 2003), but Paul Martin's household never would have used it.

In addition to these amounts, the Prime Minister's family is permitted to spend their own money as long as the changes they make meet the approval of the National Capital Commission.

Because the quantities and frequencies of investment are legislated (or, at least, set out in some kind of official policy), it wouldn't be the Prime Minister's fault that the money is spent - the rules are just being followed.  (The rules could be written in such a way that it is the National Capital Commission that is required to spend the money, not the Prime Minister's household.)  And this heritage building would be kept in decent conditions and be able to fulfill its official and ceremonial functions without being a source of national embarrassment.

This framework could also be used for other official residences, just replace "Prime Minister" with the dignitary who resides there and "National Capital Commission" with the organization responsible for managing the residence.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Thoughts on rereading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in over 20 years

This post contains spoilers for To Kill a Mockingbird, and refers to comments that I've read about Go Set a Watchman. However, I haven't yet read Go Set a Watchman, so no spoilers for Go Set a Watchman please!

I decided to reread To Kill a Mockingbird in anticipation of Go Set a Watchman (for which I'm still about #200 on the library hold list, so no spoilers please!).  I was no more than 13 years old when I last read it, which may be have been part of the anti-racism unit in Grade 9 English class or may have been part of my personal project in middle school to read classic novels (which my middle-school self defined as "old and famous").  I felt fluently literate at that age and, looking back, my adult self would have told you that my preteen self was fluently literate, but I was surprised to see a number of things that I either missed, lost, or forgot.

For example, I failed to notice that Atticus is also a politician, in that he represents Maycomb County on the state legislature. When I read the book 20 years ago, I think I interpreted "going to the legislature" as just something lawyers do from time to time, not as a whole other career.  That's actually our first clue that there are far more aspects to Atticus than To Kill a Mockingbird lets on.

I also failed to notice that Boo Radley had a father who was alive and present and an active character during the time covered by the book.  I don't remember how I previously interpreted "Mr. Radley" and the cementing of the tree hole.  But I perceived Boo Radley as a scary old man (which a creepy 30-something would have been to my preteen self), so it simply might not have occurred to me that a scary old man could even have a father.

I remembered it as having been explicitly stated as courtroom testimony that Bob Ewell raped Mayella, but it was never stated outright - it was something I read between the lines, and there's little enough stated outright that it's also totally possible he just beat her!

On the flip side, the first time through I failed to perceive that Boo Radley had killed Bob Ewell and Sheriff Tate was covering it up to protect Boo from the scrutiny of a trial. I don't specifically remember how I read it as a kid, but I'm assuming I read it literally - Boo Radley rescued Jem and Scout, and Bob Ewell did in fact fall on his knife because, like, he's a drunken simpleton.

(Interesting that my preteen self could read between the lines for incestuous rape but not for the cover-up of a murder! I think we can blame Paul Bernardo for that - this was during the time when he was loose, so rape was very much on my mind, but it had never once occurred to me that a police officer would cover up a murder.)

Another thing my preteen self wouldn't have noticed: Calpurnia grew up near Finch's Landing. Atticus says at various points that Calpurnia is "like family". With my adult self's knowledge of how the world works, it occurs to me that it's possible Calpurnia is in fact a blood relative.


I haven't read Go Set a Watchman yet, but I did catch some headlines and snippets of reviews, many of which expressed dismay that Atticus was or came across as racist.  Before my reread, I figured this is realistic solely on the grounds that Scout is a small child in To Kill A Mockingbird and small children are less likely to see flaws in their parents than grown adults are.

But upon rereading, I could totally see how Atticus might get there.  There is certainly evidence of segregationist and misogynist attitudes.  They aren't outright malicious, they're more paternalism, which I didn't notice at the time because in my child-self's experience, that was simply how grownup men are.  But from an adult perspective, I can see how that attitude wouldn't stand the test of time. 

However, the thing that struck me the most about Atticus Finch is that he doesn't really want to be Atticus Finch, he just wants people to think he's Atticus Finch.

In other words, Atticus Finch the man doesn't actually want to constantly and truly live and think and do everything that a person would have to live and think and do to be Atticus Finch the masculine ideal who is worthy of being portrayed on screen by Gregory Peck.  But he does want people to look at him and say "There goes Atticus Finch, the masculine ideal who is worthy of being portrayed on screen by Gregory Peck."  The book explicitly states that he doesn't actually want to defend Tom Robinson, he's assigned the case by the person in charge of assigning defence lawyers.

Scout and the portions of Maycombe society who didn't want to see Tom hang and many real-world readers have lauded Atticus for providing Tom with a proper defence. But really all he does is point out that Tom's one arm doesn't work. While that is a crucial point, it occurs to me that a better defence may well be possible (perhaps incorporating a wider variety of evidence?), but our eight-year-old unreliable narrator wasn't able to imagine such a thing.  What if Atticus wasn't actually trying to properly defend Tom, he was just making a point of being seen to defend Tom?

Similarly, at one point Atticus sits outside Tom's jail cell at night to drive off people who are coming to lynch him.  The lynch mob comes, words are exchanged (with the involvement of Jem and Scout, who followed Atticus to see where he went), and the lynch mob leaves.  Then Atticus goes home with his kids.  Leaving Tom unprotected for the rest of the night.  Atticus says that's because the lynch mob isn't going to come back, but what if Atticus wasn't actually trying to protect Tom, he was just making a point of being seen to protect Tom?

Dirty lens: what if this performative aspect extends to his parenting?  What if he doesn't actually want to do the emotional labour involved in being a good father, he just wants to go through enough motions that he can feel "Look at me, I'm a good father!"  He lectures Scout about the need to see the world through other people's eyes, but still speaks derisively of femininity in front of her. (For example, joking that women don't serve on juries because they'd ask too many questions, to his daughter who's in the process of asking him questions.)


Based solely on the Scout we met in To Kill a Mockingbird and without having yet met 26-year-old Scout in Go Set a Watchman, I also think one possible outcome is that Scout may also come across as racist one day.  Maybe not in Go Set a Watchman, but sometime in the future, maybe when she's a senior citizen in the 21st century.  (She'd be in her 80s today.)  She comes from a place where her father was seen as heroic and/or radical for going through the motions of defending Tom Robinson. She comes from a place where it was perfectly reasonable (and, in fact, the polite option) to call people "negroes".  She comes from a place where a perfectly reasonable explanation of why a child doesn't have a lunch to eat is "He's a Cunningham." If she's not exposed to and open-minded to the evolution of society throughout her life, she could totally end up as someone's cringily racist grandmother in her dotage.

Actually, I didn't notice the inappropriateness of the "He's a Cunningham" moment the first time I read this book 20 years ago. The teacher had already expressed disapproval that Scout could read and write, which set me up for feeling that Scout is right and the teacher is wrong.  I don't know if I recognized the situation as "Scout is announcing in front of the whole class that the one boy doesn't have a lunch because he's poor," because of the cognitive dissonance of that happening in a situation a where Scout is right and the teacher is wrong.  I think I read it as "Scout is explaining a cultural nuance that neither the teacher nor I grasp."  (I also might not have recognized "a Cunningham" as a surname, because referring to people as "a [surname]" is completely outside the scope of my experience.)

But rereading that scene and realizing how unreliable our narrator was, I also find myself wondering if perhaps there was something wrong with the way Scout reads and writes, and that's why the teacher wanted Atticus to stop teaching her?  No reading or writing problems are ever explicitly mentioned, but the fact that it's assholic to announce in front of the class that this one boy has no food because his family is poor is never explicitly mentioned either.  (Various people scold Scout for doing so, but people also scold her for reading and wearing overalls and playing outdoors, so the fact that she was scolded didn't make my preteen self automatically thing it was objectively Wrong and Bad.)


Another thing I failed to notice about Scout the first time through is that she learns some social graces over the course of the book.  When Atticus and Calpurnia go to tell Tom's family that he's dead, Scout helps Aunt Alexandra keep their tea party running smoothly, so the ladies in attendance have no idea anything is wrong.  She's also able to be gracious to Boo Radley when he's in their house towards the end of the book, and, reading it as an adult, I think this is more a performance of etiquette than genuinely feeling comfortable with him.  Scout seemed to have learned performative social graces fairly quickly, which sets her up for becoming extremely skilled at them as an adult.

We'll see how many of these thoughts end up being accurate as soon as approximately 200 Torontonians finish reading Go Set a Watchman.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Books read in October 2015


1. Letters to the Midwife: Correspondence with Jennifer Worth, the Author of Call the Midwife
2. Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt
3. The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny 


1. Seduction in Death 
2. Reunion in Death 
3. To Kill a Mockingbird 
4. Purity in Death

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Post-election round-up

Campaigning that reached me:

- 1 flyer from each candidate in my mailbox or under my door
- Multiple phone calls from each candidate. The NDP candidate left a message (which I think is a strategic error - many people find voicemails annoying) but the others didn't. I do appreciate the fact that all candidates phone lines that display their names on call display so I could screen accordingly.
- A man in a red t-shirt knocked on my apartment door at once point. I don't know if he was a Liberal canvasser or just a strange man who happened to be wearing a red shirt, because I don't open my door to strangers.
- I saw only one sign in my riding, for the Liberal incumbent, but it was taken down when the house was sold.  I also saw one sign each for the Liberal and NDP candidates in windows of an apartment building in an adjacent riding.  (Yes, even with riding distribution, my neighbourhood is still irritatingly fragmented among multiple ridings.)
- My candidates were really irritating on Twitter.  They kept sniping at each other and subtweeting. I felt like a kid trapped in the back seat of a car while family members argued.

Traditional post-election simulator tests:

Using the percentages available on the Elections Canada site, the simulators produce the following results:

Too Close to Call

Liberal: 138
Conservative: 120
NDP: 71
BQ: 8
Green: 1


Liberal: 131
Conservative: 126
NDP: 78
BQ: 2
Green: 1

(Also, was the Hill+Knowlton simulator really annoying for anyone else this year? It kept jumping around on the page every time I moved a slider.)

Actual results:

Liberal: 184
Conservative: 99
NDP: 44
BQ: 10
Green: 1

As with the last federal election, the prediction and simulation models don't seem able to properly process surges.

Thoughts on the results:

I'm still pondering this surprisingly large shift from NDP to Liberals.  Did a whole bunch of people feel moved to vote for the Liberals or against the NDP?  Was it because the Liberals were campaigning left and the NDP was campaigning right, as happened in the last Ontario election? (Although it seemed to me that this shift wasn't nearly as strong as in the last Ontario election.)  None of these phenomena seemed pronounced enough to cause such a drastic shift.  Or were so many people strategically voting against the Conservatives incorrectly (i.e. by using national polls rather than looking at the situation in their riding) that it actually ended up being correct?

If it's the latter, I certainly hope the new government's statement about this being the last "first past the post" election proves to be correct, because adding the factor of other people who might strategically vote incorrectly to your strategic voting strategy is just too complicated! 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Voters' Resources (Canada 2015 edition)

This post is post-dated. If the date and time indicated for this post have not yet passed, there may be new material below it.

Getting Started

Election Day is October 19!

First, go to the Elections Canada website and type in your postal code to find out if you're registered to vote, your riding, your candidates, and where to vote.

If you have not received your voter information card, you can still vote on election day, you just need to take ID. Note that ID requirements have changed since last election. However, you do not necessarily need photo ID.

Your employer has to give you enough time off to ensure that you have three consecutive hours off during polling hours.


The web design trends of 2015 make it difficult to provide a single link directly to parties' platforms (although they're reasonably easy to navigate to visually), so this time I'm providing links to the parties' official websites.

Bloc Quebecois
Conservative Party
Green Party
Liberal Party
New Democratic Party

To help you figure out which party is best for you:

CBC Vote Compass
Political Compass: compare your results on the test with the Canadian political parties chart
I Side With
Maclean's Policy Face-Off

Not all these tools use the same issues or interpret the platforms or relative positions of the parties exactly the same way. It's useful to take all of them and see where they differ, see where they surprise you, and use that information to focus your research.

Strategy and Predictions

My "How to Vote"
My "Where to Vote"
My "How to Vote Strategically"

Riding-by-riding predictions to help you with strategy:

- The Election Prediction Project
- Hill and Knowlton Election Quarterback (previously called Election Predictor). You need to input poll data into this tool. Poll data is widely available in the media, and in some of the other tools linked here.
- ThreeHundredEight
- Too Close To Call
- Toronto Star election forecaster. For individual riding projections, scroll down to "Riding Projections", then select your province from the Y axis of the chart.

Other interesting sources

- Pundits' Guide
- Election Almanac

This post will be updated through to Election Day as I find more information. Do you know of anything else that should be included here? Are any of the links dead? Let me know in the comments!


I dressed in my usual black and purple election day outfit, but then decided to violate my "no party colours" rule by wearing my late grandmother's birthstone ring.  She was a huge fan of voting (and of dogs), so I thought it would be appropriate to bring her with me.

As in previous years, I planned the longest justifiable route, with some errands along the way, to maximize my opportunity to pet dogs.  (For those of you just tuning in, the more dogs I pet on the way to vote, the better the election outcome.)

But zero dog-petting opportunities presented themselves!  The dogs kept being led away from the sidewalk onto the grass, or across the street from me, or otherwise on trajectories that I couldn't reasonably intercept.  The only interceptable dog I encountered was in the middle of pooing! 

I began to wonder if I'd thrown off equilibrium with the ring, so I went home (perfectly justifiable! I was carrying groceries and there was a line-up outside my polling station!), put the groceries in the fridge, and took off the ring. I'm still not sure if that was the right decision. Then I proceeded to the polling station by a perfectly reasonable route that happens to have high dog potential.

It did have high dog potential, but, again, none of them were interceptable. I saw like 20 dogs in 2 short blocks, and I couldn't reasonably pet any of them. In desperation, I passed a shade too close to a large dog that was part of a family with a crying baby, trailing my fingers a shade lower than natural in the hopes of getting a quick pet in even though they clearly didn't want to stop because they wanted to get home and take care of their baby.  But I misestimated our respective heights and missed.

The line to enter the polling station reached outside, which I've never seen before.  I had a voter's card, so once I was inside I was directed straight to my poll.  There was no one else waiting for that poll, so I was in and out in two minutes.  However, there was a very long line-up for people who didn't have voter's cards.

This means lots of new people are voting.  I hope that's enough to outweight the back lock of zero dog pettings.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What if minimalism is a retail conspiracy?

There's a lot of "minimalism" lifestyle that suggests you should keep only the things you use most often and get rid of the rest.  Lately it's been trendy to call this clothing approach a "capsule wardrobe", and I've heard of similar approaches to kitchens, toiletries, and general household goods.

But I find myself wondering if it's all a conspiracy to get people to ultimately buy more stuff.

If you get rid of something because you haven't used it in years, then you'll need to buy a new one the next time you need something like that.  For example, I keep an dark winter coat that I haven't worn in a decade, just in case I'm ever in a situation where my standard red coat wouldn't be appropriate. I keep warm winter boots that I haven't worn since the 20th century just in case I ever need warm winter boots. If I didn't keep these things and then had to go to a funeral in the winter, or had to walk outdoors in the cold for far longer than usual, I'd have no choice but to go on a frantic shopping trip and buy a new dark coat or warm boots.

You'd have to buy even more stuff if you went minimalist on things you use all the time. For example, when I originally discovered Victoria's Secret cotton panties, I stopped wearing all my other panties because they were nowhere near as perfect.  But I kept them in my underwear drawer.  Then, when Victoria's Secret changed the design, making them uncomfortable and useless, I still had other underwear that fit me and was at least marginally acceptable.  If I hadn't had any other underwear, I would have had to go through a costly, irritating, and time-consuming trial and error process. It isn't always readily apparent that underwear is unsuitable without wearing it for a day, and because I need clean underwear every day I'd have to buy multiples of each potential new underwear rather owning zero clean, hole-free pairs of underwear.  And, because you can't return underwear, I'd just end up spending a whole lot of money on a bunch of useless, uncomfortable underwear, and possibly not even end up with anything better than what I owned before I switched to VS.

I'm sure retailers would love if everyone had to shop like this, but I'd find it irritating.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition VII

11. If Driver A honks at Driver B in a situation where moving would cause Driver B to crash into something or someone, Driver A (and their vehicle and their property) instantly sustain the cumulative total of whatever damage would have been sustained by Driver B and innocent bystanders (and any other vehicles or property) if Driver B had moved in the way Driver A wished.