Wednesday, December 28, 2005

It's December 28. Do you know where your Voter Information Card is?

I received my Voter Information Card in the mail today. This means you should be receiving yours soon too. I do not know the precise day by which you should receive it, but if you're worried Elections Canada can help you.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Answering machines

Conventional wisdom has it that you shouldn't say "I'm not home right now" on your answering machine/voicemail, because people might take that as an invitation to burglarize your home. You should instead say "I can't come to the phone," thus giving the impression that you are home, but occupied.

Don't you think the burglars would have caught on right now, and would take any and all answering machine/voicemail messages as equal indicators of whether or not the person is home?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Things I don't understand: long-term-only views of politics

I've noticed in several places people saying that it doesn't matter if a suboptimal party wins the election, because history will not be kind to them. The people making these comments seem to either forget or not care that no matter how history treats a political regime, the people there at the time still have to live through it.

So are the people making these comments somehow so insulated from areas of federal jurisidiction that their lives cannot be made or broken with one well-aimed policy? If so, I envy them. But I hope they keep in mind that not everyone is in such a comfortable position, and some of us are directly affected by government policy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

My experience as a young voter

Metro Morning asked people to call the vox box and tell about their experiences as young voters. I don't want to be on the radio, so I'm going to blog it instead.

I am 24 years old, so I think I might still be on the senior end of the "young voters" scale. I voted for the first time in the 1999 provincial election; I was 18 years old, and that was the first opportunity I ever got to vote. Since then, I have voted at every possible opportunity - including one provincial by-election in my parents' riding just because I was still registered as a voter there - with two exceptions. I did not vote in the 2000 municipal election because I had just moved to Toronto, and felt I did not have enough experience living in the city to assess the incumbent on his record, and therefore was not qualified to evaluate the various platforms. For example, I couldn't tell you if transit services were egregiously lacking or if transit fares were egregiously high when I was still in awe of the very presence of a subway. The second time I did not vote was for a city councillor in the 2003 municipal election, because I could find no information whatsoever about one of the two candidates. I did vote for mayor then.

However, as a young voter, I see three major problems with this election campaign:

1. The candidates are taking shots at each other instead of discussing their own platforms. I find this terribly insulting to my intelligence.

2. Platforms are developed on only a few key issues, instead of the entire scope of federal government responsibilities, and candidates are not empowered to discuss issues outside the scope of their platforms. In addition to broader issues of policy and my general vision of the purpose of government and what Canada should be, I have some concerns specific to my own situation that do involve issues under federal jurisdiction. However, these concerns have not been deemed part of the general platform of any party, so none of the candidates can address them for me.

3. The media keeps telling me that I'm not voting, instead of treating me like a voting adult who is interested in being an informed voter.

The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning

As an introvert who lives alone, I've often pondered the potential of a novel that took place entirely inside the protagonist's head, with little to no human interaction. This book, about a grieving widow rattling around inside her big old house while dealing with boxes of old family papers (the "hatbox letters" from the title), comes very close to doing just that. I actually enjoyed the interior monologue quality of the novel, but there were two rather large, important aspects that annoyed me: the author's use of detail, and the way the book deals with the grieving process.

The author described everything in tiny, artful, poetic detail. This was a constant distraction, because the structure of the book implied that the narration was entirely from the protagonist's perspective, and in my experience people simply do not notice that level of detail around them. Obviously this does not apply to everyone, because the author clearly noticed it, but it simply rang untrue for me. It was even more distracting during flashbacks to the author's ancestors (who wrote the titular letters). The conceit is that the protagonist is imagining the flashback scenes, but the level of detail is far too much for something being imagined by someone who wasn't even there. It is terribly unfortunate, because I should be admiring the detail as a sign of the author's artistic talents, but I found it very difficult to get past "Oh, come on! Like someone would really notice that!" I think the novel would have been better served if the narration of detail had come from an omniscient third-person narrator.

The general theme of the book is the grieving process. The author is newly widowed, and in reading her ancestor's letters she discovers that her grandfather was originally engaged to her grandmother's sister, but the sister died tragically and her grandfather ended up marrying his deceased fiancée's sister, who eventually became the protagonist's grandmother. The author somehow (and how exactly she does this is unclear to me) uses this information to get over her grief and "move on with her life," as self-help likes to say. But this does not ring true with my own experience of grief. The author was married for decades - close to 30 years, if I remember correctly - and she just sort of "gets over" her grief in only a couple of years by learning that her grandparents were bereaved but eventually got married anyway. This simply does not make sense to me. In my experience, grief does not just go away, and certainly cannot be made to go away by presenting the bereaved with the fact that other people in the past have been bereaved and yet went on and did other things in their life. The fact that life goes on does not negate grief, and it seems absolutely bizarre that they would be presented in such a cause-and-effect manner. I know that society generally considers it commendable for people to "get over it" and "heal" and "move on" (and my theory is that this is considered commendable because it's just easier for other people when the bereaved is no longer acting bereaved), but I simply cannot fathom that a widow of a happy, loving, decades-long marriage would just get over her grief after learning that her grandparents were once bereaved, and then engaging in a few social activities. It seems to very much trivialize the idea of grief, which is an unfortunate sentiment for me to take away from a novel dealing with grief.

I should add that in all of this, there was one tiny detail I absolutely adored: the protagonist was the same size as her husband, and they shared shoes and gardening clothes. Not only do I find the idea of sharing clothes terribly romantic, but it's quite refreshing to see a sympathetic romantic pairing that does not consist of a giant hulk of a man and a dainty petite woman.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed the introspective quality of this novel and I enjoyed watching the flashback plot unfold, but the distracting quality of the level of detail and the ultimately dismissive way in which grief was handled rather ruined the experience for me.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pessimism is the road to happiness

If you assume everything is going to go perfectly in life, you'll be disappointed if it doesn't, and neutral (i.e. "Yes, just as I expected") if it does.

If you assume everything that can go wrong will go wrong, you'll be happily surprised if it doesn't, and neutral ("Yes, just as I expected") if it does.

Open letter to the media

Dear media:

Please stop alienating me.

Whenever I open the newspaper to see the day's election coverage, I see an article about how I don't vote, speculating about how I'm too self-absorbed or ADD to really care about politics, and perhaps I shouldn't be allowed to vote at all because my generation has no sense of responsibility and will lead the country to hell. I fully intend to vote, and the reason I'm reading every word of election coverage is so that I can be a fully-informed voter, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to tolerate when everything is tinged with disparaging commentary about how I'm not going to vote.

I also read an article today about how I'm politically disengaged because I live in an apartment. This article alleged that I am generally disengaged from the community as a whole, because I think I have a lot of friends but really they're just fleeting acquaintances, and that my living in an apartment contributes to my disengagement, because I don't have common concerns to discuss with my neighbours like whether the garbage out back is going to be picked up. First of all, I don't think I have a lot of friends. I think I have a few, very close, very important friends who are definitely not fleeting acquaintances. My neighbours are fleeting acquaintances, which is why I don't feel the need to discuss politics with them. And I do care about whether the garbage out back is picked up, because my recycle box needs emptying but the recycle dumpster was almost overflowing yesterday and I certainly couldn't fit all my newspapers in unless they've emptied it this morning. But I don't discuss this with my neighbours because my super could tell me definitely when it will be empty, while my neighbours could offer nothing but empty speculation.

Another article I read recently postulated that I am having financial troubles because I have no sense of how to manage money, and this is partly because I have over-inflated career expectations because I have an over-confident idea of what my skills are worth and am not willing to start at the bottom and work my way up. Again, this is the complete opposite of my current situation. I will admit that my lack of financial trouble stems almost entirely from good luck, but I am still insulted that you think I don't know how to manage money. As a quick perusal of my personal finances will show, I can manage money just fine, it's just that there needs to be money for me to manage it. I also take umbrage that you'd think I'm not willing to start at entry-level. My problem in job searching has been that people were unwilling to hire me for entry-level positions because I have a degree, but I know full well that I do not have the experience to start above entry level with an employer I've never worked for before. It really is terribly insulting to be told that I'm cocky and inept with overly-high expectations when I very much want to start at the bottom and learn and gain experience but every potential employer except the one I ended up working for would not allow me to do this!

Traditional media often worry about attracting young readers and viewers, and are inexplicably concerned that blogs are taking away their audience. I can't speak for anyone else, but as a young reader and viewer (and blogger), I want very much to consume traditional, well-respected news media in order to be a fully-informed citizen, but it is very frustrating when these media sources pigeonhole me as something I am not, and then disparage me for it.

Dropping Out

There has been a lot of discussion lately about how to stop people from dropping out of school. There has even been talk of taking drivers' licences away from people who drop out. I don't agree with this because, as I've mentioned before, I think consequences should be natural and that no good can come of creating artificial consequences. But I also think they're focusing on the wrong part of the process.

Instead of trying to stop people from dropping out, they should let anyone drop out whenever they want, for any reason.

BUT, they should also make it the easiest thing in the world to go back to school.

This means making all public school classes free for anyone. This means making a wide range of classes available day and night, online and correspondence. This means providing guidance services for adults who once dropped out of high school and now wish to go back and finish and then go on to post-secondary education. This means allowing people to get co-op credits for their jobs. This means creating a secondary and post-secondary education model in which students who are above the age of majority are not automatically assumed to have parental support.

The main problem is that the whole "stay in school" initiative is simply not addressing people for whom the very fact of being in school is a hardship or is logistically difficult. This simply perpetuates the notion that education is a trial, a punishment, thoroughly unpleasant. Instead it should be accessible, perfectly feasible, something you can fit easily into your life, a pleasure or a stepping stone, not a jail sentence.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Lessons Learned: glasses lenses

Glasses lenses have brand names, and in each brand there are different types of lenses, like how there are Honda and Toyota and Ford cars, and then there are different types of Hondas, like the Accord and the Civic. All the different brands and types of lenses are easily googleable.

I'm pretty sure that depending on what types of lenses and coatings you ask for, they order a different brand and type of lens. For example, when I ordered my glasses, the lenses I got were Essilor Trio.

Therefore, I think a much more sensible way to go about this whole glasses business is when you're pricing things out, ask for the various brands of lenses and how much they cost, write it all down, then go home and google all the lenses. There should be enough qualitative and quantitative information available to compare them, then you can make an informed decision without being pressured or having to depend entirely on the optician's word.

Friday, December 16, 2005


I think there might be some deep, important reason why I'm childfree. I've noticed my base, instinctive reactions seem to be pushing me in that direction. I do have your normal care-for-and-protect-a-child instincts, and my instincts when interacting with babies seem to be optimal for the baby's development, but my instincts are also pushing me away actually reproducing myself. It's not that they're pushing me away from sex, it's just that they're totally anti-breeding.

For example, women who are biologically ready to reproduce find more testosterone-heavy physical features attractive on men, but women who are not in a position to reproduce find testosterony features unattractive. I find them unilaterally, 100% unattractive. In the BBC's gender quiz, I picked the less testosterony man as more attractive every single time. I also find behaviours associated with testosterone just unpleasant, something to wrinkle my nose at and walk away from, much like if you saw someone spitting on the sidewalk.

I also find behaviour that results from paternal instincts unpleasant. I see a man being proud or protective of his children or trying to teach them stuff, and it just puts me right off. It's the same visceral reaction as I would have if I walked past an aquarium containing an octopus. The strange thing about this is that most of the traits that I find attractive in men are things that would be considered good in a father - kindness, gentleness, intelligence, loyalty. But a whiff of the paternal, and I'm turned right off. I don't feel that way about maternal instincts - I feel completely neutral when I see a mother being maternal - but the slightest hint that a man might enjoy childrearing and I'm pressing my legs together, crossing my arms tightly over my chest, and cowering away.

I think this might be because there's something in my body - some physical problem, or perhaps some hereditary disorder that I don't know about - that makes it unadvisable for me to have children. I used to want children very much, but this was in early puberty before I developed a libido. As my libido grew, my desire for children shrank. By the time I was actually in a situation where I could have become pregnant if I had chosen to do so, I was vehemently childfree. There must be something in there somewhere that gives me these strange instincts - the same way that when I had a slight tendon injury on my foot, my instincts told me not to put my full weight on it, even though there was no pain when I actually did put my full weight on it. Maybe because I'm so shortwaisted, there would be no way for me to gestate without hurting my bones. (Ick!) Maybe I carry some sort of bad genes. Maybe any babies I'd attempt to have would be born with a serious disability. I don't know of anything definitive, but it really seems like there's some reason for these bizarro instincts I have.

Which brings me to the CF community. I feel strangely unwelcome in the CF community because of my relative youth. CF people like to complain about Kids Today (which isn't one of my favourite pastimes, but not a surprising trait), and I've noticed all too often that they group people in their early 20s - people whom I would consider both adults and my peers - in with Kids Today. It's very off-putting to lurk around in what is essentially a support group for a minority lifestyle, and hear people who could be me, or who were me just a couple of short years ago, cited as Part Of The Problem. I'm sure if I walked in and said I'm 24 and want to get a tubal, they'd all be completely supportive - I'm sure I'd get all the best advice they could give me, and they would passionately defend my right to get sterilized at such a young age. But if I walked in and said I'm 24 and no, I don't see what's wrong with emailing your co-worker instead of walking over to their cube, I'd be flamed out of there.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

May I have the last word on Beer and Popcorn?

I've done enough blog-link-whoring lately, so if you don't know the story, type "beer and popcorn" into Google News.

The appropriateness of spending one's childcare money on beer has been addressed elsewhere, so I'm not going to get into it here.

But the big question, which no one has addressed, is why is Scott Reid so anti-popcorn???

Popcorn is a perfectly good snackfood. It's low in fat, it has fibre, it's one of the healthier salty snack choices, and it's perfect on family movie night. It is perfectly appropriate for parents to buy popcorn, as long as they have the decency to share it with their kids. What does Scott Reid have against popcorn?

Another tool to help you decide how to vote

CBC's Vote by Issue Quiz. You state whether you agree or disagree with a particular platform on a particular issue, and it tells you how closely aligned you are to each party. Rather cool, although my results were no surprise to me.

Found through the Star's Antonia Zerbisias.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Things They Should Invent: a more pleasant election for all

All candidates and all parties should agree to simply discuss issues and policy. They should not discuss other candidates and parties, they should not discuss their opponents' policies, they should just discuss their own platforms and leave it up to the public to compare and contrast.

There should be a fine for any politicians who violate this rule with all proceeds going to charity. OR with all proceeds being a donation to the opposing parties!

Things They Should Invent: private consultation areas in pharmacies

Most of my Things They Should Invent come out of my own head; this one did not. This came from reading NDP candidate Paul Summerville's blog entry on privacy concerns surrounding the sale of Plan B, a.k.a. emergency contraception, a.k.a. the morning after pill.

It occured to me that the real problem is not with the behind-the-counter status of Plan B itself, but with the layout of pharmacies. There is no private space to consult with pharmacists. I haven't consulted with pharmacists that many times in my life, but when I have it has been at a counter off to the side, but still within full view and hearing of the other customers, often with those customers waiting impatiently in line behind me.

The things I have discussed with the pharmacists aren't uber-private (I wouldn't hesitate to blog them or tell people about them if they were at all interesting), but if my life circumstances were different I might have a problem with being overheard. After all, I'm a self-sufficient adult, living alone in a secular community. I have no relatives, co-workers, or family friends living in my neighbourhood or likely to wander into my local pharmacy. I have no enemies who might wish to blackmail me (to my knowledge), and the things I might discuss with a pharmacist happen to be considered socially acceptable by a large enough chunk of society that they couldn't be used to blackmail me. In short, no one who overheard my consultation would care about it. However, I can see that under different circumstances, or even earlier on in my own life, I might find it terribly embarrassing to discuss these things with a pharmacist out where everyone can hear me. When I was younger, I was embarrassed to tell people I used deodorant, or that I had my period - I would certainly have been embarrassed to consult with a pharmacist out in the open, in my local hometown pharmacy, where everyone could see that I was talking to the pharmacist, and the pharmacist might be a classmate's parent, and that cute guy in grade 12 worked as a stockboy at that very store and could walk by at any minute and overhear that I had menstrual cramps or athlete's foot or oily dandruffy hair or whatever.

All they need is a quiet consultation room where a pharmacist and a patient can discuss any issues that require discussion in privacy, without being overheard. This is not just for Plan B and other things related to sexual health, but also things like "I get this horrible gas whenever I eat onions" or "What should I put on this rash?" or "I'm two months pregnant. Can I take this medication?" None of these things are terribly shameful, but that doesn't mean they need to be general knowledge. As a customer service, all pharmacies should have consultation spaces that are at least as private as the consultation spaces in blood donor clinics. It's a matter of human dignity.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Things that are particularly unattractive for people to be smug about

1. Diet and exercise regime
2. Parenting techniques
3. Financial management
4. Any stroke of sheer good luck they happen to have experienced

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wedding invitation correction notices

This scene just popped into my head, and I can't remember where exactly it's from. It was in a TV show or a movie or a book or a comic strip or something.

The bride and groom get their wedding invitations back from the printer's, and they notice there's a mistake. So they get these correction notices printed up to insert into the invitation, but there's a typo on the correction notice that makes the groom's name sound funny. So they then get another correction notice printed up to give the correct spelling of the groom's name, and the invitations go out with two correction notices in them.

Does this ring a bell for anyone?

Saturday, December 10, 2005


I stopped in to a tiny little convenience store I've never shopped at before to get a carton of milk. It cost $3.89 for 2L.

At Dominion, the cheapest 2L carton is $4.00, and at every other store I've ever bought milk at it's even more expensive.

How can the tiniest convenience store in the neighbourhood manage to undersell a large supermarket?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer

I LOVE THIS BOOK! It's set in Toronto in 2045, about a guy who decides to get his consciousness transferred into an immortal android to avoid a hereditary disease that will leave him in a permanent vegetative state.

The plot itself is perfectly good, but where I really fell in love with the book is the tiny attention to detail.

Subway lines that are currently being planned IRL Toronto had "recently" been completed.
The protagonist randomly thinks to himself one day "It's 2045! Why the hell don't I have a self-steering car?"
His android form isn't colour-blind, so when he wakes up his first thought is "OMG, what's that colour?" "Green" "Oh wow! That's my new favourite colour!" Then he spends a while staring at green.
They keep old people on the moon, where they'll be less likely to be injured in a fall and can be mobile for longer because of the lower gravity!

I listed a whole lot more beautiful little details, but then I decided to delete them so people who haven't read the book can discover them for themselves. The author creates a perfectly plausible Toronto of 40 years in the future, uses clever conceits to insert details that wouldn't normally be explicitly stated but need to be mentioned to the 2005 reader, and fills the whole thing with brilliant, clever little touches that make me want to applaud him.

Note to self: read this book again in 2045 and see how it stands up to reality.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Deciding where to vote (for university students)

This is intended for students who are eligible to vote either in the riding where their parents live or in the riding where they go to school, as well as anyone else who has some choice over which riding to vote in.

1. If one of the ridings is a really close race, vote in that riding. If both are close, vote in the riding with the closest race. If neither is really close, follow the instructions below.

2. Of the parties running candidates in your riding, decide which one has the best platform that comes closest to meeting your needs and your vision of the country (hereafter the Best Party). Then decide which one has the worst platform that is furthest from meeting your needs and deviates the most from your vision of the country (hereafter the Worst Party). You are judging the parties as a whole, not the individual candidates in your riding. Assess each party individually without regard to possible strategic voting - that comes later.

3. Based on your own needs and your own vision for the country, decide whether it is more important to you that the Best Party win, or that the Worst Party does not win.

4. If it's more important to you that the Best Party win, vote for the Best Party in the riding where the Best Party is least likely to win.

5. If it's more important to you that the Worst Party not win, and the Worst Party has a chance in either of your ridings, vote for the party most likely to defeat the Worst Party in the riding where the Worst Party is most likely to win.

6. If the Worst Party doesn't have a chance in either of your ridings, vote for the Best Party in the riding where the Best Party is least likely to win.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Gratuitous Podcasts

Lately I've noticed a lot of podcasts where there really don't need to be podcasts. Harry Potter fansites are doing podcasts, Dear Ellie is doing a podcast, election campaigns are podcasting, it's ridiculous. And frankly, not only is it unnecessary, I find it less user-friendly than just posting in text. A podcast I have to download, which means I have to wait. No, I don't have to wait very long, but it is significant compared with the negligible load time of a text webpage. Then I have to listen instead of reading, which means that I have to turn off the TV and the music and listen to the phone, as compared with just idly scanning a page of text without pausing in anything else I'm doing. If I miss something I have to "rewind," if I get an instant message or an email I automatically miss something, and it's just generally more trouble than simple reading. And then once I do go to this trouble, I find that the content of the podcast does not actually require an audio medium. It would be just as easy to type it out and post it (especially since a typed-out soft copy of the script probably already exists), and easier for me to absorb in text form. In some cases, text form would be even more preferable. It's ridiculous to have Dear Ellie podcast a straight-out advice column, unless she engages in actual dialogue with the actual person who's asking for advice. SQ's Goblet of Fire in 8.7 minutes suffered from the podcast format, because it was done in the voices of the SQ people, and you couldn't tell by voices alone which character was meant to be which - you had to resort to your knowledge of the plot. Prisoner of Azkaban in 15 minutes, by comparison, was in text form, so I could read it and imagine the lines being spoken by the movie actors or by my mental version of the characters. There's just no point in using a new medium unless that medium is actually going to improve the user experience in a way that straight text can't. For almost every podcast I've heard, I'd rather have read a transcript than listened to the podcast.

In addition to all this, there's the fact that podcasts are not searchable. In my professional life, as well as for personal research, I use the internet as a corpus. If something is posted on the Web in HTML or any other searchable text format, it shows up in Google's index and I can use it to research terminology and collocations or look up random facts or find out the general opinion about something. A podcast just shows up as the presence of an mp3 to be downloaded, thus contributing nothing to my use of the internet as a language and research tool.

I think before anyone makes a podcast, they should ask themselves "What benefits will the users get from this audio medium that will justify their having to download a file and turn off their background music to listen to it." If they can't come up with anything better than "But it's cool!" they should just post a normal article or blog entry and save us all some trouble.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston

I love the cover of this book. I think people should do this in their wedding pictures.

The book is a sort of general overview of the role of the wife in society. As with many general overviews, I found parts of it interesting and parts of it irrelevant to my reality. The interesting parts didn't really stand up and say "LOOK AT ME, I'M INTERESTING," but some of the shortcomings did stand up and say "LOOK AT ME, I'M A SHORTCOMING!" so I'll touch upon them here.

First of all, I think the book could have benefitted from greater separation between the concepts of "wife" and "mother". I realize they do tend to overlap, but I can identify with wife but not with mother, so it just felt like gratuitous alienation to me. Non-childfree people might not feel this way.

A rather strange reaction I had to the book was that in a few places I found myself wishing that they would give a father's perspective on the situation. A strange thing to wish for in a book about wives, especially in a book about wives that I felt was focusing too much on mothers. But at one point the book was dealing with the stay-at-home wives vs. working-outside-the-home wives (by which it really meant mothers - it did not mention stay-at-home wives without children, probably because that's an archaic concept in the 21st century), and it never dealt with the subject of why fathers might not be staying at home with the kids. In another chapter dealing with domestic violence, the book lamented the fact that domestic violence patterns can start as early as adolescence, when some girls are "flattered" that their boyfriends are possessive, controlling and isolating. But the book didn't even give the slightest mention to the fact that fathers are often possessive, controlling and isolating of their daughters, and the daughters are told by the grownups around them and society in general that this is a sign of love and they should be grateful for it. It can even start earlier than adolescence - I've seen other men tell the father of a beautiful female infant "Wow, you'd better lock her up and buy a shotgun," with the full intention that this horrible comment was a compliment. In this context, it's no surprise that some girls and women accept similar treatment from their boyfriends and husbands, but the book doesn't even mention this. I realize paternal attitudes is somewhat beyond the scope of a book on wives, but in these two cases the book really suffered from not having included mentions and explanations of these attitudes.

Which brings us to the overall problem with this book: it simply cannot serve any purpose because the role of wife is unique to each wife. In several places the author condemns society/the bridal-industrial complex/the magazine industry/feminism for painting all women with the same brush, as though they have the same goals and wishes in life, when in reality every woman's goals depend on her context, just as every role of wife depends on her context, and specifically on her spouse. The book acknowledges this, but doesn't address it itself. This makes the book no better than the things it criticizes, thus fulfilling no real purpose.

I didn't mind reading it, but I wouldn't actively recommend it to others.

Lowering the voting age to 16

The Star is soliciting reader feedback on the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16.

Some of the reasons people are giving about why 16-year-olds shouldn't be allowed to vote are really disturbing. Because random people outside their demographic things their demographic does not care about politics? Because random people think they have too many other things to worry about? Because not all the issues will necessarily affect them immediately and directly? Perhaps those are reasons why an individual may exercise their own choice not to vote, but they certainly aren't good reasons to deny an entire identifiable group of people the right to vote.

People become interested in politics at different ages, and now there is far more information available than ever before, so anyone who knows how to use Google and has the patience and interest for a bit of reading can make an informed decision. I'd say let anyone vote who wants to vote, regardless of age, and people will self-select. Those who aren't interested in politics won't vote, and those who are interested, and therefore make the effort to become informed and engaged, will vote.

I would also propose giving the vote to anyone who can correctly answer the following questions:

1. Name all four political parties who currently have party status in the house of commons, and identify the leader of each party. State which of these leaders is prime minister and which is leader of the opposition.
2. Name any current cabinet minister and their portfolio.
3. Name any two candidates in your riding, and the party each one belongs to.
4. Name your riding's current MP and the party they belong to.
5. State any two parties' positions on any issue.

So if you can show that you're aware of who the key players are and that you've at least gone to the trouble to look at the parties' or candidates' websites to see what their platforms say about your favourite issue, you're in. If a 12-year-old can answer all these questions, let them vote. If some 60-year-old thinks Ernie Eves belongs to the Liberal party (as someone in Lindsay, Ontario, so famously did in a Toronto Star interview during the last provincial election), then they don't get to vote.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tales from the grocery store

1. Instant soup was on sale, 2 for $3, multiples of two only. Unfortunately, it happened to be on the top shelf, and the frontmost boxes had already been bought, leaving the remaining items a ways back from the front of the top shelf. Therefore, they were diffiult to reach if you aren't tall. The lady in front of me tried and failed to reach them, so she moved away and started looking around for a store employee to help her. Despite the fact that I'm only a bit taller than her, I decided to try to reach them. Holding onto my cart for balance, I stood on my very tippy-toes, far higher on my tippy-toes than you'd expect someone without ballet training to be able to stand, and blindly flailed my arm in the general direction of the boxes I wanted. I stretched out my hand and managed to curl my disproportionately-long fingers over some boxes. I pulled them down, unable to see what they were from my precarious position, and it turned out they were the ones I wanted.

Unfortunately, they were also the ones the lady in front of me wanted, and she was standing there expectantly. I tried to reach some more boxes, but they were all out of my reach. I had just grabbed the last two that I could reach. Fortunately, a very tall man came by and helped us a moment later, and everyone went home with two boxes of soup.

This makes me wonder what the etiquette would have been if no one had come along to help us. The sale was multiples of two only, so there would be no point in sharing the bounty. The other lady wouldn't have deserved to have to go soupless just because she happens to be a couple of inches shorter than me. However, neither should I have had to go soupless when I did all the work. It's quite the ethical dilemma.

2. Despite the fact that I went grocery shopping at 3 pm on a Monday, the lines for the checkout were crazy. There were so many people waiting to be checked out taht you couldn't always tell where a line ended. I spent like twice as much time standing in line as I did walking around the store. The dreadful irony of all this is that my grandparents emigrated for the express purpose of not having to wait in line for food. "Hi, Babcia? Guess what? Your struggle to immigrate and years of hardship were all in vain!" I do realize the difference is that the food is available, but functionally it seems to be a difference between standing in line before you have the food in hand, and standing in line after you have the food in hand. I still think there should be a rule that if you can eat all the food before you get to the checkout, you should get the food for free.

3. There are these people canvassing on the sidewalk for Sick Kids, and I always seem to encounter them when I have a particularly heavy load of groceries. Regardless of how worthy a cause Sick Kids is, I can't really just sit there and listen whiel carrying loads and loads of bags. It occurred to me a few minutes too late that I should ask these Sick Kids people to help me with my bags in exchange for a donation.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy by David Stevenson

I picked up this book because I know very little about WWI, but I'm afraid it did not meet my needs at all. The only reasion I finished it is because I make an effort to finish every book I start.

I was hoping to find out in general historical terms why and how the war started (but more specifically than "the Archduke was assassinated"), plus some human interest details on everyday life during the war for the soliders and the people back at home. Unfortunately, this book falls into a middle ground that completely missed what I was hoping to get out of it. The best way I can describe its focus is that it is similar to what I'd imagine the focus of the newspapers at the time to be. It was smaller than the general historical context because they didn't yet know the historical context at the time, but it ignored the details of human interest because people at the time didn't need their newspapers to tell them what they wore and how they occupied their time and what kinds of shortages there were. The book does a battle-by-battle play-by-play, name-dropping generals and politicans left and right. All of which is perfectly valid, but not what I hoped to get out of it.

This problem is exacerbated by several annoyances introduced by the publishers and editors. The typeface is slightly smaller than usual, so there are more words on the page than in most books. This discourages me from reading further; it is rather disheartening when you've only finished five pages in your 13-minute subway ride. I also found the copy-editing conventions hindered readability. I don't know whether it was a matter of author or editor preference, but the book ended up using commas only when strictly necessary, as though commas were a non-renewable resource, thus causing me to have to reread sentences and make a concerted effort to parse them. They also had the annoying habit of writing "nevertheless" as "never the less," thus making me want to stop reading, fish for a pen in my purse, and insert proofreader's marks indicating that I think it should be written as a single word.

Overall, I would say that this book is not worth the aggravation unless you already have a good understanding of WWI and need the book for academic research.

Fun with election predictions

First, go to the Globe and Mail's Poll Tracker to get the latest split numbers.

Then, plug those numbers into the Hill and Knowlton Election Predictor to see how they affect each riding and the total number of seats.

My Sims can't seem to wrap their brains around the concept of death

Dina and Nina Caliente started out in the same fully-furnished house.

While playing another house, I got one of my own Sims to marry Nina, thus moving her out of the Caliente house.

Then Dina died of some illness while at a party in a third house.

This should leave the Caliente house unoccupied but fully-furnished, right?

The problem is the neighbourhood screen seems to think that the house is still occupied, so I can't move a new family into it - but if I enter the house from the neighbourhood screen, it is fully furnished but unoccupied.

I suppose I could go into the neighbourhood screen and move the non-existant Caliente family out of the house, but I really want to move a new family into a fully-furnished house so I don't have to bother with furnishing it myself.

Did the EA programmers really not consider the possibility that all the members of a family might die outside of their own house?

Lynn Johnston gets it right!

This is precisely why, despite being a voracious reader and a competent writer, I've always hated English class.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tax cuts

I have been asked for my opinion on cutting the GST (as proposed by the Conservative party) vs. cutting income tax.

Extrapolating from my own experience of being at the very bottom of the taxation scale, I think cutting the GST would put more actual dollars back in the pockets of the very poorest. However, I do not know whether this would be enough money to be significant - I suppose it depends on the individual situation.

GST cuts, like income tax cuts, would save disproportionately more money for the very richest, because they have more disposable income to spend on GST-taxable items. However, I don't think this disproportionality can be avoided when you're doing tax cuts.

In my current situation, the maximum amount of money I could save with the proposed GST cuts is about $400 per year (calculated with the assumption that all of my net income that is not earmarked for savings is spent on GST-taxable purchases; IRL this is not the case).

In my situation in 4th year university (not my poorest year, but the one for which I can best remember the specifics of my financial situation) the maximum amount of money I could have saved with the proposed GST cuts is about $30 per year (working with the assumption that there is no GST in tuition or res fees).

$30 was more significant to me in 4th year uni than $400 is now, because I have more job security now. (I wouldn't say, objectively, that I have job security, but my current position is permanent, while in uni my job ended when I graduated, so I knew for sure that and when it would end). However, in both cases I would be more comfortable with the money being in government coffers, where it could be spent on income security programs. I don't know if it will be used for income security, but I know that it cannot be used for income security if it's in people's pockets, and I know that an extra $400 will not provide me with any meaningful additional income security.

I have become accustomed to paying the level of taxes that I am currently paying. They do not present any sort of hardship in my current incarnation as a middle-class professional, and they did not present a hardship in my previous bouts with unemployment and student life. I would rather continue paying taxes at my current level, and if the government finds it's collecting more money than it needs, have the government use the money to improve pensions, employment insurance, social assistance, etc. I fully expect to be unwillingly unemployed at some point in my life, and I would very much rather have enough income support in my unemployment that I don't have to live somewhere infested than have a few hundred extra dollars in my pocket now.

So, in summary, I do think a GST cut is more beneficial than an income tax cut.

- this does not necessarily mean a GST cut would be a good idea
- this does not mean that a GST cut would be more beneficial than investing the money in income security
- this does not necessarily mean the Conservative platform as a whole is good.

I will be reviewing the party platforms this weekend if they've been posted on the websites, so I may come back to this later.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Seen on the subway: a man, wearing a suit that he clearly bought when he was at least 30 lbs. lighter, carrying an old, worn-out briefcase straining at the seams with documents, holding an pair of cheap geeky glasses that are completely out of date yet entirely without retro irony, weeping silently and openly.

Poor guy.

I spent the rest of the day thinking up his backstory.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How to Vote

In honour of the upcoming election, a review.

1. Of the parties running candidates in your riding, decide which one has the best platform that comes closest to meeting your needs and your vision of the country (hereafter the Best Party). Then decide which one has the worst platform that is furthest from meeting your needs and deviates the most from your vision of the country (hereafter the Worst Party). You are judging the parties as a whole, not the individual candidates in your riding. Assess each party individually without regard to possible strategic voting - that comes later.

2. Based on your own needs and your own vision for the country, decide whether it is more important to you that the Best Party win, or that the Worst Party does not win.

3. If it is more important to you that the Best Party wins, vote for the Best Party. If not, continue to the next step.

4. If it is more important to you that the Worst Party does not win, assess the Worst Party's chances of winning in your riding.* Not in the country as a whole, just in your riding. If you feel that there's too great a risk of the Worst Party winning in your riding, vote for the party most likely to defeat the Worst Party. If you feel the risk of the Worst Party winning in your riding is acceptably low, vote for the Best Party.

*Here are some suggestions for ways to assess sentiment in your riding:

- The Election Prediction Project
- Lawn signs
- General sentiment gleaned from talking to people
- Letters to the editor, if there's a local newspaper which has the majority of its leadership living in the same riding. This won't work in major cities, but it will work in smaller towns and cities
- Historical election results in your riding.
- Contact your local reference librarian and have them help you find out if any polls have been done for your specific riding.
- Extrapolations from seat predictions. This depends on the kind of predictions available, but sometimes it works. During the last election, the Toronto Star predicted X Liberal seats in Toronto, Y Conservative seats, and Z NDP seats. By looking at a riding map and using the process of elimination, I was able to determine which way my riding was predicted to go, and that prediction was correct.

Remember: do NOT use national polls to inform your strategic voting. Your vote is only effective in your riding. No matter how earnestly you vote, you cannot cancel out votes in another riding. Vote strategically only if the situation in your very own riding demands it, regardless of what the rest of the country is doing.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Thoughts on the eve of the government falling

As a voter, I don't feel that it's necessary to make the government fall right now. The decision to make the government fall today feels completely arbitrary to me - the opposition leaders are acting like it's extremely necessary, but to me it sounds like they're just randomly saying that. I'm equally disappointed in all parties for their lack of consensus-building, so as a voter I'm back at square one.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


If you go to a doctor with a complaint of pain, the doctor asks you to rate it on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain you've ever experienced.

There are many problems with this, and I think I might have blogged about some of the problems before. But another problem that just occurred to me is that we experience pain differently at different points in our lives.

I've never given birth or had a kidney stone. I have broken a bone, but my only memory of the experience is overwhelming terror - I don't remember the physical pain itself. The worst pain I can remember experiencing is a bout of menstrual cramps at the age of 11 that left me curled up on the floor in the fetal position. If I experienced those same cramps today, I would still go to work and do whatever else I needed to do. I would be watching the clock and popping Midol and thinking lustful thoughts about heating pads, yes, but I wouldn't be curled up in a ball. This is because I've become accustomed to menstrual cramps, plus I can duck out of my office at any time if the cramps start to feel slightly digestive instead of having to wait until the end of my class.

So if I go to the doctor and am asked to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten, is my ten hardcore cramps as I experienced them at age 11, or is it hardcore cramps as I experience them as an adult? I haven't really experienced that much pain as an adult. I can produce pain equivalent to the worst I've experienced as an adult with impractical shoes and too much walking, but it's still pain I can work through. So how would some arbitrary number be helpful to a doctor?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Things that rock!

1. Cover Girl TruBlend Powder Foundation. I know I'm probably too old to be wearing Cover Girl, but this makeup works as advertised and I feel good wearing it. It would, however, benefit from having a wider range of colours available, and more colours available within the existing range. I wear a blend of two different colours, neither of which matches my natural skintone, but together they create a pleasing third colour that is a sort of idealized artistic allusion to my natural skintone. This works for me, but it would be better if they could match my natural skintone exactly.

2. Parissa 2-in-1 Roll-on Hair Removal System. Finally they combined the convenience of a roll-on applicator with the quick clean-up of a sugar-based hair removal system! Makes annoying hair removal much faster and easier, and even a little bit fun! The only problem is it comes with these weird sort of wax paper-ish strips, and I find unbleached cotton strips work better. So I use the cotton from an older sugaring system, and it's all good. You can buy cotton strips separately as refills for other sugaring systems.

Friday, November 25, 2005

How to make people paranoid

If you're ever near people having a conversation in another language, stare at them as though you're following along. If they look in your direction, quickly look away. If they start laughing, you laugh too. Then cover your mouth as if to hide your giggles and avert your eyes as if to say "No, I'm not eavesdropping! Who, me?"

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Free political advice!

One piece of political advice for each party that runs in my riding. In alphabetical order:

Conservatives: You seem to be trying to promote yourself by dissing the Liberals, but a lot of people are saying something along the lines of "I don't want the Liberals to win, but I can't in good conscience vote Conservative." You might want to be looking at why people feel they can't in good conscience vote Conservative, and change your policies accordingly.

Greens: Many people see you as a radical sort of party, but you are actually more fiscally conservative than most people think. You might want to emphasize this in your campaign.

Liberals: This is tricker, because, as the centremost party, people are complaining about your policies from both sides, and the fallout from the sponsorship scandal can only be healed over time. The best I can think of here is to distance yourself from Conservative policy on dealbreaker issues.

NDP: Many people want to vote NDP, but vote Liberal instead because they don't want the Conservatives to win. To counter this you should sponsor riding-by-riding polls at several points during the campaign. If people can see that the Conservatives aren't likely to win in their riding, they'll be more likely to throw a vote your way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


I've said this before, but I think it bears repeating.

IF you own a business or are in charge of a public space or institution, and
IF your business or public space or institution, for whatever reason, does something to mark a religious occasion, and
IF members of the public, especially of that religion, complain that your method of marking the religious occasion is not religious enough,
THEN I would recommend not doing anything at all to mark the occasion next time it rolls around, if not to save yourself some trouble, then at least for the amusement if seeing if anyone notices that you haven't gone to any effort.

How to build the perfect website for an eyewear store

Eyewear is a tricky business. It's expensive, serves both fashion and medical purposes, and has to be worn on one's face at all times. While eyewear does need to be sold in bricks-and-mortar stores so people can try it on and get second and third and fourth opinions and have it properly fitted and get adjustments when necessary, retailers could add so much value by having a useful, informative, interactive website that will help people do their initial research at home.

Seven steps to the perfect eyewear retailer's website:

1. Have a website, with hours and locations. Sounds obvious, but some stores don't.

2. List your prices for lenses and coatings, as well as the full terms and conditions of any deals you might have. I want to be able to walk into the store, look at a price tag, and mentally calculate what I'll have to pay. Come to think of it, list your prices for lenses and coatings in the store too! (And have price tags on the frames in stores too, *coughHAKIMcough*).

3. Show me your frames. All of them. Have an online catalogue like those online eyewear vendors do. You don't have to sell online, but show me pictures and prices. If the frames happen to come in different sizes and colours, tell me! I want to have the option of walking into the store with a list of style numbers, colours and sizes that I want to try on.

4. Let me search through your inventory effectively. With a click of the mouse, I want to be able to see all the oval frames, or all the oval wire frames, or all the oval wire frames with a lens size between 46 and 50 and a nose size 18 or 19. If there are only two frames in your inventory that meet my needs, let me find that out in 2 minutes on your website instead of by trekking all the way to The Big Mall and browsing through your entire inventory. Then, of course, show me which stores these specific frames are available at, and give me the option of having them sent to my local store for me to try on if they aren't there already. I know some chains' internal computer systems already allow store employees to do this. Now just make it available to the customer!

5. Have a price calculator on your website. I want to be able to enter the price of the frames and my lens requirements, and see how much I'll have to pay before I even leave the house. If you have promotions, set up the calculator that will automatically apply the best promotion to my purchase. For bonus points, have a reverse calculator, where I can enter my lens requirements, prescription, and the maximum I'm prepared to spend, and it tells me how much frame I can afford. For double bonus points, then let me select my frame preferences, and generate a list of the frames in that price range that match my preferences.

6. Let me enter my prescription too, so the computer can automatically exclude lens-frame combinations that are not compatible with my prescription. I would much rather find out that my hideously myopic left eye prevents me from ever being able to wear big frames before I get my heart too set on those big movie-star sunglasses that seem to be the fashion right now.

7. As an added bonus feature, set up a price-watch system, especially if you have ever-changing promotions. Let me enter my requirements (e.g. oval; wire-rimmed or frameless, amber, brown, bronze or tortoiseshell, single vision with anti-glare, plus a pair of sunglasses, oval, plastic, same prescription, all for under $X) and email me an alert when something like that becomes available. If I'm asking the impossible, give me a notice saying "The product combination you requested has never been available for less that $Y. Click here to proceed with this alert. Click here to modify your preferences."

I don't need to point out that the technology to do this already exists. Every online retailer works this way. Several online retailers have already applied this technology to selling glasses. If a bricks-and-mortar eyewear store picks up on this idea, and they will have my unquestioning loyalty. If I could do all the annoying preliminary browsing online, going to the store only to try frames on, show them to trusted friends for second opinions, and get properly fitted, I would not even consider going to a competing store that didn't have the online option.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Open letter to white supremacists

While searching to see what the blogosphere had to say about the Cardinal McGuigan incident, I noticed that some white supremacists were citing it as an example to support their white supremacist ideas.

To those white supremacists: DON'T

It's already bad enough that some people are trying to make this about race rather than about the fact that a high school student was harassed and assulted and threatened for more than a year. By using it to forward your white supremacist agenda, you are simply providing more fodder for the unfortunate idea that it was all about race and not a valid sexual harassment/assault copmlaint at all.

This is not helping the victim.

If it really is strictly necessary for you to go around being white supremacists, do it in a way that doesn't make live even more difficult for victims of sexual assault.

Bullying Roundup

The thing that really shocks, outrages, and confuses me about the Cardinal McGuigan case is something mentioned by a CBC radio reporter at the bail hearing for the accused (unfortunately I can't find a cite online, but I'm certain I heard this on Metro Morning). The reporter mentioned in passing that the only ones among the parents who had any sympathy/empathy for the victim were those who have daughters, because they could imagine how horrible it would be for this to happen to their daughters.

But why can the parents only put themselves in the victim's parents shoes? Why can't they put themselves directly in the victim's shoes?

Does something happen when people become parents that they can no longer directly empathize with members of a younger generation, and can instead see them only through parental eyes? Frankly, I find that kind of creepy. Empathy is "Wow, I can only imagine how hellish it would be if people were doing that to me." To say "Wow, I can only imagine how hellish it would be if people were doing that to my daughter" is kind of, I don't know, possessive and almost selfish. They aren't empathizing with the victim, they're really empathizing with her parents, and the empathy is fraught with touches of the same distasteful archaic ideas that lead to such unpleasant traditions as the bride's father "giving her away." It's coming from the same place that leads critics of war to say I don't see the warmongerers' kids in combat without even considering that the warmongerers' kids are in no way responsible for their parents' warmongering, or leads people to think "You'd better lock up your daughter and buy a shotgun" is a compliment, without even considering that the daughter is a human being with thoughts and feelings and doesn't deserve to be denied basic human liberty or social contact (and even some dabbling in romance if she so chooses) because her father is possessive and paranoid.

If I were the victim in this situation, I would feel even more dehumanized by people saying "I can empathize, I have a daughter." That isn't empathy - that's the kind of attitude that leads me to use the word "parental" as an insult. If you want to empathize, you empathize because you're a human being with thoughts and feelings, and have probably experienced at least a touch of bullying and/or sexual harassment in your life, and can extrapolate from your experience to perhaps begin to imagine the hell the victim is going through. If you've led a charmed life where you have never experienced bullying or sexual harassment and seriously cannot imagine being in the victim's shoes, the correct expression is "I can't imagine what you must be going through."


By sheer coincidence, I was on kind of a bullying theory kick before this incident even occurred, so I just finished The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso. Overall it was quite interesting and would probably be useful to parents, but there were a few flaws that really jumped out at me.

1. The author puts huge emphasis on the idea that bullying is not sibling rivalry, thus strongly implying that bullying cannot take place among siblings. She offers no solutions to the problem of sibling bullying, which is a different issue because the victim cannot escape the bullying even in the privacy of their own home, and basically does not even acknowledge the existence of the issue. Perhaps she doesn't acknowledge this because it goes contrary to her basic thesis that bullying behaviour can be parented away, but it leaves a very real problem completely unaddressed.

2. She states several times that sometimes bullying is exacerbated when the victim does not fight back or stand up for themselves (although she doesn't recommend telling the victim to stand up for themselves - she does have other practical recommendations). However, she never acknowledges that one reason victims might not stand up for themselves is because they were told by well-meaning grownups to "just ignore it." The author does not recommend telling kids to just ignore the bullying, but neither does she emphasize that this is an ineffective, yet common, tactic. I've even seen it put forward on websites specifically dedicated to stopping bullying, with no advice given on what to do if ignoring it doesn't work (or, at least, doesn't work within a reasonable time - ignoring it will work eventually because everyone will graduate and move away, but asking someone to ignore abuse and humiliation for years and years is not reasonable or feasible advice). I would expect an expert in bullying to know that this is frequently-given and ineffective advice, and to at least mention the fact that it is ineffective. She does once quote a bullying survivor as saying that she was told to just ignore it, with the implication that this is ineffective advice, but the author never once says this herself or explicitly states that it's ineffective.

3. The author emphasizes many times the need to build up children's self-esteem, but doesn't say anything about how exactly this is done. If I were in charge of a child, I certainly would not know how to build up their self-esteem! People need to be told these things! Nor does she really address the fact that even if the parents treat the child in a self-esteem-building manner, this isn't necessarily going to build their self-esteem if no one else is treating them with basic human respect. If their parents are saying "You don't deserve to be treated like that," but everyone else is treating the kid "like that," then the kid will simply assume that the parents are wrong because they're parents and they're clueless. This is exacerbated if the ostensible reason for the bullying is because of something that originates from the parents. If the kid is being bullied because they are wearing the wrong colour jeans, and the parents bought them those jeans, then the kid is likely to be mad at their parents for buying them jeans that would get them bullied. So, from the kid's perspective, on one hand the parents are saying the kid doesn't deserve to be treated badly, but on the other hand they're furnishing the kid with possessions that the bullies use to treat the kid badly. This makes parents as a whole untrustworthy, so the self-esteem-building messages need to come from other sources.

These shortcomings make me doubt the usefulness of the methods described in the book as a whole. I'm not in a position to test the methods, but the fact that the book doesn't address some of the major issues from my own time as a victim of bullying does raise some doubt in me.


It occurs to me that there might be some value in sensationalizing all bullying.

(Forgive me if I've blogged this before - I thought I had, but I can't seem to find it in my archives).

The word "bullying" itself is rather unfortunate in that it trivializes what is in fact physical and psychological abuse. Use of the word "bullying" makes it sound like some everyday part of childhood - only one or two levels above "teasing" (which is not always even a negative thing). The word "bullying" itself is inherently negative, but I don't think it's negative enough. Legally and semantically, the activities that comprise bullying are, in fact, abuse, assault, torture, extortion, harassment, maybe even bordering on rape in some cases.

I think people in general, and the media in particular, need to take this up. Instead of using the word "bullying", we should use the worst word possible to describe the occurrence in question. For example, instead of saying "I was bullied as a child", I would say "I was threatened, harassed, abused, tortured and assaulted as a child." Instead of saying that someone was a bully, I would say that he was guilty of sexual harassment or she was guilty of psychological abuse. See the difference?

So why are we doing this? First of all, it will emphasize the seriousness of bullying. Assault is still assault even if it can also be categorized as bullying, and is no less devastating to the victim. In fact, it might be more devastating if the bully is punished for "bullying" instead of for "assault".

Secondly, it will give victims of bullying the vocabulary to describe their experiences. At the age of nine or 11, I didn't know how to describe the concepts of psychological abuse, sexual harassment, or uttering threats of violence in words that would make them sound like the misconduct they are. "He is sexually harassing me!" is much better than "He's saying things to me!"

Thirdly, (and this is the part I don't have the expertise to be sure about), it may decrease bullies' motivation to bully. Being a bully is one thing; having your name publicly associated with the words "abuser", "assailant" and "torturer" is another thing. This would be particularly effective if cases of bullying were reported sensationally in news media. The only problem here is I'm not sure if a bully would thrive the attention, even when it's such strong negative attention. I've heard theories that bullies just want attention, but there are holes in these theories. The other thing it may do, if this is doable, is make parents more likely to want to stop their kids from becoming bullies, for fear of having the kid's name (and maybe even the parent's name) publicly associated with the words "abuser", "assailant" and "torturer". Again, the problem here is that I don't know if bullying can be parented away. Some people say it can, but I have seen families where one sibling is a bully and the other isn't, so I don't know if it's 100% parenting.

Finally, I think the media should take it upon itself to demonize bullies as much as possible - both individually and collectively. Create an environment in which angry talk-radio caller types are only capable of pronouncing the word "bully" by spitting it, like certain factions in the US used to do with the word "France."

If anyone reading this happens to be a bully, I'd appreciate any feedback on whether this would actually work. Anonymous comments are welcome, and, for the purpose of this post, we won't judge you for being a bully as long as you keep your bullying out of this blog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Poll: Mental Arithmetic

When is the last time you had to do any kind of math (or arithmetic, for the purists) in a situation where you didn't have the option of using a calculator, or using a calculator would have been an inconvenience? Please post in the comments and describe the situation. Feel free to post anonymously.

I can't think of any situations myself. The reason I'm wondering about this is that I've noticed people getting outraged that Kids Today can't do arithmetic in their heads*, and I find myself wondering whether that would actually be a hindrance in real life?

*I don't know enough kids to tell whether or not this is true, but I do know that people were making the same complaint about my generation, and I've found that my mental math skills have always more than met my needs.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Maybe I'm becoming a synaesthete?

It has just occurred to me that the word umami is onomatapoeic. I don't think tastes are supposed to be onomotapoeic.

Does enfranchisement come from the inside or the outside?

Conventional wisdom has it that people need to be employed and/or productive to feel enfranchised (in the broadest sense of the word). Apparently if people are contributing to society, they feel enfranchised and this results in fewer social problems.

But does enfranchisement actually come from feeling like you're contributing to society? As a person who has been on both sides of the employment divide, I'm not sure that it actually has to do with the employed/unemployed person themselves. Rather I think it might have more to do with society's reaction to them.

I was fortunate enough to be hired for a full-time permanent job just over two years ago, and that certainly increased my level of enfranchisement and feeling of belonging in society. But internally I'm still the same person - it hasn't directly changed my own feelings or attitude. Rather, it's changed people's reactions to me.

During my various periods of unemployment or under-employment, I got a sneering attitude from certain quarters. There were individuals who loudly voiced their assumption that I was unemployed or under-employed because I was lazy and simply wanted to be a leech on my family and/or society. There were individuals who loudly voiced the opinion that I was not entitled to call myself an adult or be treated as an adult because I was not working or because I was only working in fast food or because my upkeep was not completely free of parental contributions. If I got involved in a political debate, I was often told that I was not entitled to my opinion because I had a lower marginal tax rate than my interlocuter. In stores, I was still treated like a teenager. When looking for work, the fact that I was unemployed or under-employed was a hinderance.

Because of all this, I felt somewhat put on the defensive. I felt rather dehumanized next to people whose resume showed more contributions to society than mine did. I felt that I always had to justify my existence. While not everyone looked down upon me because of my employment status, enough people did that I felt it was likely that any stranger would respect me less, unless they proved otherwise. For example I was terrified to meet mi cielito's parents because I was certain they'd think I wasn't good enough for their son because of my resume. While this didn't result in me going around burning cars, it did have a negative effect on my attitude towards society in general. Despite the fact that I voted and was politically active, I felt terribly disenfranchised.

When, through a sheer stroke of luck, I started working full-time permanent, people's attitudes towards me suddenly changed. I think a huge part of it is that those who just want to find fault simply can't, as my employment situation is, by all standards, perfectly respectable. Since I'm as much of a taxpayer as anyone, my political opinions can no longer be dimissed on that basis. Also, the general public seems to treat me with more respect when I'm walking around in office clothes, and stores treat me with more respect either because I'm dressed like a grownup, and/or because my purchases reflect my greater disposable income. After being treated with this increased respect for a while, I started getting used to it, and no longer felt the need to justify my existence. So while I do feel more enfranchised and my attitude towards society in general has changed somewhat, it's more because of how people are treating me. My own politics and personality and attitude, independent of how they are affected by how others treat me, remain exactly the same.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Computer tip of the day

From last week's Monday Morning Manager:

Computer sharpener: In Windows XP you can dramatically improve the sharpness of text by right clicking on the desktop, selecting Properties, then the tab called Appearance, and pressing the Effects button. In the screen that appears, check the box reading "use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts," and then select Clear Type on the drop-down menu, completing the process by clicking on OK and Apply.

I just tried this, and it's so cool!

How to make me turn into a big gooey pile of mush

The comics strip Mutts is doing a series about a doggie who is rescued from Hurricane Katrina.

I'm not a huge fan of Mutts - I'll read it because it's on the Star's comics page, but I wouldn't go out of my way to seek it out online. Their "Shelter Stories" series doesn't usually have a huge effect on me, probably because the cartoon doggies don't look anything like real doggies. Show me a real doggie and I'll turn into a blubbering idiot; show me a cartoon doggie and I'll move on to see what's going on in Get Fuzzy.

However, Thursday's strip completely melted me, for the simple reason that the doggie is wagging its tail at its rescuers. Logically I know a dog will wag its tail at anything - you say hi and it will wag its tail, you smell interesting and it will wag its tail - but the mental image of this sad, lonely, tired, wet, smelly doggie finally being rescued off the roof and still summoning up the energy to perk up and get all waggy just make me mooshy.

With just three lines and two dots, the cartoonist changed me from "Meh" to "Ooooh, the doggie's wagging his widdle TAAAAIL!!!!!" Now THAT's artistic talent!

Monday, November 07, 2005

You know you're getting old when you don't remember how the adolescent mind works

Last Sunday's Zits demonstrates an unfortunate trend I've seen in this comic strip: Jeremy as blaming his parents for not ensuring that he does something that is clearly his own responsibility. I don't think this is a realistic portrayal of adolescent attitudes. Rather, I think it's a portrayal of a flawed adult conception of what they think adolescent attitudes must be.

When I was 15 (the same age as Jeremy), I wouldn't wake up right away to my alarm and my mother would try to wake me up, but I wasn't depending on her waking me up - in fact, I was rather resenting it. I was fully aware of my tiredness level and what time it was - my alarm was a radio so I could still hear the news and weather and timechecks as I zoned in and out of sleep - and I was taking all these factors into account when deciding when to get out of bed. I really resented my parents completely disrespecting that, as though I was walking through the world completely oblivious to my responsibilities and wouldn't fulfill said responsibilities without constant nagging.

I also resented the fact that my school required a note from parents if students were late - even if we arrived literally 10 seconds after the bell. I understood why it was supposed to be important to be on time so we didn't miss any classes, but again I wanted the liberty to take responsibility for my own actions. I wanted to be able to be late for class and accept the academic consequences if I chose to do so, but I wasn't able to because school policy wanted my parents to take responsibility for my actions.

Actually, now that I think about it, the school was really trying to invent artificial consequences through outsourcing to parents. The official line was that we had to be on time because of the academic consequences of missing class, and the social conseuqences of our teachers and classmates perhaps perceiving our behaviour as disrespectful. However, these consequences are actually negligible, as the consequences of minor lateness generally are in real life. So, to enforce a value that they arbitrarily decided to deem more important than it really is, the school added the artificial consequences of making us get a note from our parents, thus handing some of the responsibility for our actions over to our parents (because they have to go to the trouble of writing a note, and if they think they're expected to justify their kid's actions they'll be more likely to try to manage kid's actions themselves) and preventing us from being able to take responsibility for our own actions.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Mashup Bunny: Everybody Raise a Glass to the Paperback Writer

I was listening to the Beatles and chatting online, when the song Master of the House from Les Mis was mentioned in my online conversation. As I tend to do when there's no one around to hear my tonedeafness, I started singing Master of the House. Turns out it goes surprisingly well with the Beatles song Paperback Writer. Someone should mash them up if they're in compatible keys.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Paris is Burning (what an original headline)

Apparently there have been riots in the banlieux of Paris for like 8 straight days.

Serious question: Why haven't the rioters gotten tired yet? Eight days is a long time to do anything. That's why weekends were invented. You'd think most people would have gone home and had a rest, and maybe stayed in for a day or two to recover. I mean, I can get angry and hold grudges with the best of them, but I cannot fathom being so constantly angry as to sustain a riot for eight days.

Maybe they're really well organized? Maybe they're on shifts? I don't know. It just seriously never occurred to me that a riot wouldn't just peter out.

Kangaroo Springs Shiraz

I like this more than most shirazes, because it's more cream and berries and less tannic. It's sort of softer, instead of screaming out "LOOK AT ME! I'M SHIRAZ!" It pairs well with pasta, but I'm not sure how it would do with meat. The conventional wisdom is that you need tannins to go with meat, so it's possible the meat might overpower the wine.

Open Letter to Toronto Cops

Attn: Toronto cops:

I generally support the workers in any labour dispute as a matter of course. As a worker myself, I feel that only good can come from raising labour standards, any labour standards anywhere, even if it's in a profession that I would never work in myself.

However, you have lost any sympathy you might have had from me by bringing firearms to your demonstration last Wednesday.

The main reason the police do not have the full support of all members of the public is that they are seen as thuggishly throwing their weight around, because of racial profiling and that guy who got beaten up by police and got his teeth knocked out, and that woman who was raped by an police officer, and those protestors who were kept in a paddy-wagon for hours and hours and had to pee their pants because there was nowhere to pee.

Taking guns to a demonstration comes across simply as another sign of thuggishly throwing your weight around. This is Canada - people simply do not take guns to demonstrations! If anyone else did, they'd be surrounded by riot police and possibly beaten and thrown into paddy-wagon for hours and left to pee their pants. Taking your guns gives the impression that you think you can get away with stuff that no one else can get away with, simply because you're cops. This makes you look like thuggish bullies, and is not the way to earn the respect and support of the public!

I know it was only a small minority who wore their firearms, but I have no way of knowing which specific cops it was, so they have tainted the entire organization in my eyes.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Helpful hint of the day

If you have astigmatism and arachnophobia, a stucco ceiling is not a good thing. All that will come of a stucco ceiling is a lot of jumping at shadows, and more places for icky things to hide.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Creepy dream

I had a dream where my grandmother attempted suicide, so I called 911. They told me that it's not possible for her to have attempted suicide because statistically her demographic does not engage in suicidal behaviour. They then transferred me to an outside contractor who could supply the ambulance, but instead of sending an ambulance, the ambulance dispatcher gave us extremely complex instructions on how to get her to the hospital. Part of this involved a rule that she had to be accompanied by either eight or ten people. For some reason, there were nine people in the house at the time (I can't think who they were), and no one wanted to stay behind, but there was no possible way that she could receive medical care if nine people accompanied her. Then the dream merged into another plotline and this one was never resolved.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Initial thoughts on the Gomery report

Despite Gomery's exoneration of Paul Martin, certain factions are still pointing fingers at him, saying that, as Minister of Finance at the time, he should have known what was being done with the money.

This is the position that I expected from those factions, given their previous track record, but I don't think it's a reasonable expectation. Federal expenditures are over $100 billion, according to the first Google search result, and I don't think it's reasonable for one person to know where every dollar actually goes.

I've never been in charge of people, and the most money I've ever been in charge of professionally is a cash register with a $100 float, but here's the impression I get taking what I know about public sector finance, adding logic, mixing thoroughly, and baking at 350 for 30 minutes.

I think it is reasonable to expect the Minister of Finance to know (or be able to look up) to which cost centres every dollar is allocated. That is essentially his job.

I also think it is reasonable to expect the Minister of Finance to be aware of any anomalies found by any audits that may have been conducted (at least on a "Yes, I heard about that, let me check my records and I can give you more details" basis), and to take action to correct said anomalies.

It may or may not be reasonable to expect every dollar of every year's expenditure to be audited. I have no idea what audit standards are like or how complex a process it is, so I'm not going to presume.

However, I do not think it is reasonable to expect that the Minister of Finance would be aware that and where and how and what quantity of funds are being misappropriated.

Why? Two reasons:

1. If you were misappropriating funds for personal gain, wouldn't you take every measure to avoid tipping off the person ultimately responsible for allocating funds?

2. If you were misappropriating funds on behalf of a political party, wouldn't you want as many people in that party as possible to have plausible deniability? And what better plausible deniability is there than actually not knowing?

There could have been no benefit to the Minister of Finance knowing that funds were being misappropriated, but there could have been several benefits to him not being aware of it at all. Therefore, if the miscreants had any sense, they would have taken every measure to prevent him from finding out, perhaps even to cover it up. Since keeping perfect track of $100 billion worth of even perfectly transparent spending is rather a tall order for one person, I don't think he should be held cupable for not being immediately aware that maybe 0.1% of that amount was not accounted for.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Isonzo del Friuli i Feudi di Romans Merlot

Unfortunately my Italian isn't good enough to know what the name of this wine means. Beppi Crosariol in the Globe and Mail described it as a merlot for that guy in the movie Sideways who hates merlot. I'm not quite sure why - it seems like a standard merlot to me - but then I'm not sure why anyone would hate merlot in the first place. Besides, wasn't that character like an adulterer or something? I would take great pride in having my taste in wine be the polar opposite of an adulterer's. Anyway, it's good merlot.


Conventional wisdom has it that manhole covers are round because that's the only shape that won't fall down the through the hole.

I don't think this is true, because subway grates are rectangular, and those grates found in the gutters of suburban streets are square, and they don't fall down. Just thinking it through in my mind, it wouldn't be that hard to create a ledge around the inside of a square (or triangular or hexagonal) hole to stop the cover from falling down.

I think the reason manhole covers are round is because manholes are round.

So why are manholes round?

Because they're made of sewer pipes, and sewer pipes are round.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Look, I'm rich!

My blog is worth $2,258.16.
How much is your blog worth?

Angst! Drama! Telecommunications!

Dear Look Communiations,

I am very disappointed in your decision to introduce a package system for your television service. I chose Look in the first place because you had one flat rate for all the channels. I stood loyally by through two failed installation attempts because I believed so strongly in this flat rate policy. I recommended you to other people out of sheer principle, because I thought it was so important to have an alternative to the exploitive package system. And now you've gone and turned away from the very policy that drew me to you in the first place.

If I continue to use your service, it will be simply because you are the cheapest. I feel used, exploited and betrayed, and have no loyalty to Look any more.


Dear Rogers,

I recently found myself disgruntled with my television service provider, so I went to your website to see if you had a better offer for me. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the information I was looking for.

I wanted to see a list of your packages that stated the channels available in each package and the cost of each package. I could not find this. I could find packages specially designed for sports-lovers and movie-lovers and owners of leaky dogs, but I find this all rather patronizing. I am familiar with the available television channels, and I know which channels I need. I simply want to know how much it costs. It felt almost like your website didn't want to tell me upfront which channels were in each package, which seems highly suspicious to me.

You have therefore lost a potential customer. If I can't find what I'm looking for when I come to your website disgruntled with your competitor, credit card in hand, hoping to switch, how can I expect you to give me the help or information I need when I'm locked into a contract and owe you money for two years no matter what?


Dear Bell ExpressVu,

I recently found myself disgruntled with my television service provider and considering switching. Unfortunately, because I have had so much trouble getting Bell and Sympatico to tell me how much money I owe and when it's due and what my account number is so I can pay said amount, I am not even going to consider using ExpressVu. Keep your call centre open 24/7 (or at least evenings and weekends) and empower your employees to help your customers find the information they need rather than responding to them like robots, and then we'll talk.

In Defence of Yonge & Eglinton

Paved pointed out this Ask Metafilter thread where someone asked for opinions about whether they should move to Midtown or the West End. I was very surprised to see no one speaking up to sing the praises of Midtown, because I cannot fathom why anyone would want to live anywhere else. I'm not a Metafilter member, and I'm not going to join just so I can get in a pissing match with people who are dissin my hood. Oh no no no. That's what blogs are for!

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Yonge & Eglinton

It isn't hip, it isn't trendy, it isn't edgy.

It is easy, it is comfortable, it is convenient.

Yonge & Eg has everything. Every single product or service you could possibly want is available here, all within walking distance. I can go to the drug store, bank, library, post office, LCBO, and grocery store, all on foot, and be back home within an hour. I can do my errands on the way to or from work without going more than a block out of my way.

To travel north-south, we have the Yonge subway line. To travel east-west, we have about 10 bus routes. If you aren't going too far east-west you can get on just about any bus, so you don't have to wait more than 2 minutes for a bus.

My commute to work is 17 minutes, door-to-door. I can leave the apartment at 5:45 for a 6:10 class, and have time to do my homework on the subway and before the prof arrives to class. I can leave the apartment at 1:00, and be on a GO bus departing Union station at 1:30.

Despite its location in the dreaded "north of Bloor", this neighbourhood hasn't surrendered to the seductive charms of the car. You can do your shopping without ever having to walk across a parking lot. You can walk straight into stores from the sidewalk. Even the stores in the Yonge-Eglinton Centre have outside storefronts. There are enough chain stores to be convenient, and enough small independent stores to keep things interesting.

Despite its location at the intersection of two major arteries, the neighbourhood still retains the best aspects of its former life as a suburban bedroom community. On small, quiet, tree-lined side-streets, you can find detached houses, duplexes, townhouses, low-rise apartments and high-rise apartments, for rent or for sale. You can step out your front door and see a familiar neighbour walking their dog, then walk two more minutes and be in a subway station. I feel perfectly safe walking down the streets at night because there are so many businesses open that I could just duck inside a pub or restaurant if things got weird. There are so many people out and about at all hours - not just people going to and from bars and clubs, but people walking dogs and jogging and going out for a late-night coffee run - that I'm never walking alone along a dark street.

This is a neighbourhood for people who want to spend their time doing whatever they want, whenever they want, instead of spending their time getting there. That may not be what everyone is looking for in a neighbourhood, but that's why I love it here.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Things They Should Invent: a search function for the Sims

Sometimes when I'm playing a large or complex house in the Sims, I can't find things. Did little Arthur not get any homework today, or did he just leave it somewhere other than in the usual place? Is there a newspaper in the house, or do we have to wait until tomorrow to find a job? Do we still have a Thinking Cap around here somewhere, or did it burn out? It would be rally convenient if I could do a search for these things, and the game would point out their location for me.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Deen De Bortoli Vat 7 Chardonnay

This is a bit more melony than your average chardonnay, which doesn't work that well since I'm not fond of melony flavours. It does acquit itself at the end with a smooth creamy ending, but really I've had better chardonnays that don't make me go "huh?" at all.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I'd rather not be welcome, thanks

"Thank you"
"No problem!"

For some reason this response really bothers some people, and I don't understand why. I know that "You're welcome" is the standard answer, but it doesn't really have any meaning to me. When I say it, I'm saying "Insert standard answer here." When I say "No problem!" I'm really being more effusive. It's shorthand for "Oh, that is so NOT a problem whatsoever, it's no trouble, I'm happy to do it, please don't go around feeling you've imposed on me!" I have a friend who communicates this with a non-verbal noise and a dismissive wave of the hand, and it certainly makes me feel more "welcome" than the words "You're welcome."

I find that in general when I use standard formulae, I'm doing so because it's socially required. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - it isn't begrudging or anything - but what I mean when I use standard formulae is "I am asking" or "I have been received a favour" or "Someone has thanked me". However, when I use variations on standard formulae, that means I'm putting some thought into my response, which means I'm actually feeling what I'm saying.

If I say, "Could you pass me that pencil please?" is standard, so I'm just using the "please" because it's required. If I say, "Um, I was wondering if you would possibly be able to do me a big favour and help me with changing my vacuum bag? I'm sorry, I know this is a strange thing to ask and a bit of an imposition, but I think the bag is full and I really am not able to change it myself, and I just don't know who else to ask," I'm obviously asking in a more deferential way. I'm not even saying "please" here, but my sentence structures and tone of voice indicate proper deference to the fact that I am asking a bigger favour to which I am not at all entitled. I could stick "please" in anywhere, and that wouldn't make it any more deferential.

When someone passes me the salt or the cashier hands me my change, I simply say "Thank you!" This is the standard formula, and is appropriate for such small niceties. If someone does me a bigger favour, I'd say something more along the lines of "OMG, thank you SO much, I really do appreciate it!" But I can also communicate effusive thanks without ever saying the words "Thank you." For example, if someone does me a surprise favour: "OMG, you ROCK!" For something extremely kind: "Oh wow, this is like the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me!" (said on the verge of tears). For a really good gift, I could be effusive about the gift itself. I did this once when I was a kid and my aunt gave me this little light for reading in bed. "Oh wow, it's so tiny, but it makes so much light! Like I took it into the bathroom and turned off the lights and it lit up the WHOLE ROOM! But you can't see it through the covers! This is so cool!" My mother then came along and nagged reminded me to thank my aunt, and my aunt said that I'd already thanked her several times. I never once actually uttered the words "Thank you," but my sheer enthusiasm for the gift made my aunt feel thoroughly thanked.

"I'm sorry" is the standard apology, and it's appropriate for normal incidents of crowd navigation or conversation interruption, but a real apology requires something more. "Oh no, I am SO sorry! I had NO idea that would happen, it was totally not what I intended to do! I really did not mean to cause any trouble for you! Please tell me what I can do to make it better!" The words "I'm sorry" sort of have more need to be uttered during an apology, but you can do it without. Wide eyes, hand covering mouth, gasp, "OH NO!" "Oh wow, I had no idea..." For smaller offences, a suitably self-effacing "Oops" and an attempt to figure out how to not make the same mistake again can be effective. Again, the use of the words "I'm sorry" need to be inserted here more than "please" and "thank you" do above, but it's the rest of the context that really communicates the speaker's remorse.

So back to "You're welcome." You're in the coffee shop, the person behind the counter hands you your coffee and your change:

You: "Thank you"
Worker: "You're welcome. Have a nice day."

Compare this with:

You: "Thank you"
Worker: "No problem! Enjoy your weekend!"

Isn't the second one better, even though the words "You're welcome" are never uttered?