Friday, September 30, 2005

Church politics again. Yawn

So apparently the Catholic church is considering denying communion to politicians who support laws that are contrary to Church doctrine. (I like this article from the Star better, but CTV has one you can access without a log-in/bugmenot.

I think the Church is shooting itself in the foot with this proposal, because it will ultimately lead to a complete absence of practising Catholics in the political sphere.

Why? Because of conflict of interest rules. After all, if it's a conflict of interest for a politician to work on an issue from which they may stand to gain financially, it's certainly a conflict of interest for a politician to work on an issue where they could ultimately be condemned to hell if they don't do what the pope wants them to. Even if a politican is perfectly capable of not being influenced by this, there will still be a perceived conflict of interest - not only for practising Catholics, but for the many people who were baptized Catholic but don't practise any more.

Practising Catholics will have to report this as a real/perceived conflict of interest, and then they will likely be instructed to recuse themselves from working on any issue that's associated with Church doctrine. Since Church doctrine can be interpreted as being rather broad, they might even be forced to resign. The result will be that there are few or no practising Catholics in politics, ultimately because the teachings of their church is preventing them from acting in accordance with general ethical principles.

Non-practising Catholics will also have a perceived conflict of interest that they'll have to report, although they may be able to satisfy the ethics authorities by formally and/or publically dissociating themselves from the Catholic church. I wonder if Catholicism actually has a mechanism to do this with? I know that just anyone can search the baptismal records of my hometown church and find that I was baptized and even had a first communion, so they might conclude from that that I'm Catholic. But there's no written record of the fact that I haven't attended church in almost 10 years except for my grandfather's funeral, and the only public record of my atheism comes from this anonymous blog and other people's testimony. Is there some way that I can get myself stricken from church records, or have them amend my file to show that I'm no longer Catholic?

This also raises another question I've been wondering about for some time: what are the theological consequences of taking communion if it's forbidden to you? I'd assume you're going to hell anyway, because being forbidden communion means you'll die without last rites. So really, what they gonna do about it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One-upped by Dilbert

I recently thought of a witty response to that most annoying of job interview questions:

Q: What is your greatest weakness?
A: I don't interview well.

Unforunately, Wally from Dilbert came up with a much better response today.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Last Honest Man : Mordecai Richler: An Oral Biography by Michael Posner

Whenever I read a biography of an author, I end up finding the author to be an unpleasant person - not the kind of person I'd want to know IRL. This book was no exception. Richer wrote columns for one of the newspapers my parents subscribed to and I generally found these columns interesting and not unpleasant, but the accounts of the man himself in this book paint a portrait of someone I wouldn't care to know.

The book itself is not terribly interesting either. It was really a chore to finish it more than anything else. It would be useful for academic research, but doesn't quite stand up to general interest reading.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Bouchard Père & Fils Mâcon-Lugny Saint-Pierre

I never understood what floral meant in wine descriptions until I tried this wine. It is extremely floral - smells almost like perfume, which is a bit disconcerting. I did enjoy it though. It's not the ideal patio wine because it's more floral than crisp, but it's quite nice if you don't badly need to be refreshed.

Attn: Sympatico users

Any of the Sympatico users reading this currently having trouble retrieving email via Outlook? I'm trying to figure out if it's a problem on my end or a server problem, and I really don't want to call their annoying tech support line.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Psycho-sociology experiment, anyone?

I invented an experiment in the shower this morning. Now all I need is for someone with suitable knowledge to actually do it and write it up. Yes, it is rather hetero-centric, but that's how it came to me. One must limit one's variables, you know.

1. Using psychology and sociology, construct a masculine ideal and feminine ideal. The ideal for each gender is what the members of that gender themselves want to be (i.e. the kind of man that men want to be, and the kind of woman that women want to be). So men who want to be manly want to be exactly like the masculine ideal, and women who want to be womanly want to be exactly like the feminine ideal. For reasons that will become apparent momentarily, we're focusing more on personality and interests and lifestyle rather than physical appearance or age or anything else purely superficial.

2. Once you have established the ideal, create the exact opposite of the ideal, which I will call the anti-ideal. So you have a man that men do NOT want to be, and a woman that women do NOT want to be. In general and on average, if a person has any of the traits of this anti-ideal, they are ashamed of them and/or are trying to change them. Again, we are not going for physical appearance or age, but personality, interests, lifestyle etc.

3. Write a personal ad seeking an anti-ideal man or woman. The sought-after anti-ideal traits should be presented positively or neutrally in the ad (i.e. no saying "...seeks stupid loudmouth asshole"). The person whom the ad is purportedly from should be a fictional character, specially designed to be as attractive as possible to as wide a range of people as possible, while still remaining realistic. The personal ad should say nothing about age or physical appearance so as to make the pool of candidates as wide as possible, although if necessary a conventionally attractive photo of the person purportedly placing the ad can be included.

4. See if anyone answers the ad, since by answering the ad they'll be self-identifying as anti-ideal. If people do answer, see how well they correspond with the anti-ideal, and see if they like their anti-ideal traits. Since the ideal, and thus the anti-ideal, are based on collective attitudes rather than individual attitudes, there wouldn't necessarily be anything wrong with the people who reply. It would just be interesting to see what kind of response it would get.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Robert's Rock Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon

I like this wine because it's less tannic than expected.  It has a bit of a smoky undertone to it.  While this is the exact same flavour that makes me dislike Viogner, it's not too bad in a red wine.  Plus, it's inexpensive and the bottle is aesthetically pleasing.  Who could ask for anything more?

Best. Invention. Ever!

Where do I sign up?

The only problem I can see is that you'd have to wear it all the time, which could get uncomfortable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Open letter to Margaret Wente

Dear Margaret Wente,

In your column today, you wrote about the sexual habits of American teens. I'm not entirely sure why you decided to write about this because I'm afraid I don't see what it achieves, but, at any rate, one item jumped out at me.

You cited the study in question as mentioning the "oral sex" participation rate, which is how it's described in the study itself. However, you go on in your article to use the terms "oral sex" and "fellatio" interchangeably.

The fact that you are using these terms interchangeably could lead the reader to believe that you believe they are, in fact, interchangeable. This is not the case.

Fellatio is but one act that falls under the category of oral sex. There are several others, some of which, if I may be so bold, are vastly more enjoyable than fellatio.

It is not my intention to make any implications about your private life, which, I realize, is none of my business. However, I would be remiss if I let this go uncorrected. The misconception that oral sex is limited to fellatio is not only an embarrassing terminological error for an experienced journalist to make, but also a damn shame of a misconception under which to live one's life.

I hope this information prove useful to you.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Thoughts arising from Bowling for Columbine

I mean this seriously and totally non-judgementally:

These people seem to think that they need guns to protect themselves.

Who do they think is going to attack them?

And why do they think these people are going to choose them, personally?

Thought of the moment

Suppose the messiah was born today, conceived through immaculate conception and born in a virgin birth.

Suppose they then did a DNA test on the baby and compared it with the mother's DNA in hope of establishing paternity.

What would they find?

KWV Chenin Blanc

I like this wine. It tastes like a little bit of everything - it goes down smooth, but also has some complexity. In the mouth it's a patio wine, but it also warms me up a bit going down, like grain-based alcohols tend to. Quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Rules I would make if I were omnipotent

1. Anyone who uses any sort of allusion to participation in a sex act as an insult or a negative adjective receives a lifetime ban from pleasurable participation in said sex act.

2. Anyone who has being diagnosed with a terminal illness and has less than a year left to live is exempted from all laws and regulations intended to protect their personal health and safety (providing this exemption does not put the health and safety of others at risk).

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On religious arbitration

The media's coverage of the Sharia law issue in particular and religious arbitration in general is a tragic failure of semantics.

The real issue was that people who aren't trained to interpret Ontario law were being permitted to make legally binding arbitration decisions. It didn't actually have anything to do with religion, except for the fact that some of the people providing arbitration happened to be religious leaders who were doing it in accordance with their interpretation of their religion.

And now that it's been rescinded, the media is bumbling again by making it sound like people are no longer permitted to get disputes mediated by their religious leaders. That is utterly ridiculous. You can get your dispute mediated by your religious leader, the same way you can get it mediated by your grandmother or your boss or your garbageman. You go to the religious leader, say "Bob and I are having a disagreement. Can you help us work this out?" And some religions might have formal method for doing this, which is their prerogative. The only difference is it's not legally binding. So you and Bob can agree between the two of you to go with whatever the religious leader decides, you just can't sue each other for breach of contract after. If you do want it to be legally binding, you have to get a legal contract drawn up by a lawyer or someone else who is trained in interpreting law, and then it will be legally binding unless it is unlawful in the first place.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Things I Don't Understand: anti-medical-testing sentiment

Ontario recently increased the number of genetic tests that they do on newborn babies, but there are some people who are opposed to this. I'd assume it's for financial reasons or something because, although I don't think money is a good reason, I can't conceive of any other idea why people would be opposed to testing newborns for genetic diseases.

But there are other situations where I've heard of people being opposed to preventive medical testing, and they make less and less sense.

For example, breast cancer. They've identified I think two genes that increase a woman's (I'm not sure whether it also applies to men) risk of breast cancer, but some people are opposed to testing everyone for them unless they already have a strong family history. I don't feel particularly deprived that I don't get this test because there has not been a single instance of breast cancer in my family, but it certainly wouldn't bother me if my doctor proposed testing me for breast cancer genes.

It also came up a few years ago that breast self-exams are ineffective when you look at it from a statistical perspective. Since this happened I've noticed that my health care providers have been putting less emphasis on encouraging me to examine my breasts, but I've also noticed a small but vocal "Self-exams are BAD!" contingent. I don't understand that. It takes 30 seconds in the shower once a month, and consumes no resources whatsoever. Not actively encouraging women to examine their breasts is one thing, but actively discouraging it? WTF?

Then there's pregnancy tests. There was talk a while back of systematically giving every girl and woman of potentially fertile age a pregnancy test when she is admitted to the hospital or ER, just to make sure she isn't pregnant. Some people thought this was HORRIBLE to do without the woman's consent, and particularly horrible to do to underage girls without their and their parents' consent. Personally, if I were underage and in distress and admitted to the hospital with my overprotective parents by my side (and they'd probably be more overprotective than usual because I was hurt), I would much rather have them take some blood or urine and just quietly test it than have them ask me the (embarrassing when you're a young teen) questions of "Are you pregnant? Is it at all possible that you might be pregnant? How do you know? What makes you say that? Are you sure?" If I'm in the hospital for something of which the treatment could have an effect on a potential pregnancy, they're going to be taking blood and/or urine anyway, so they may as well just test for pregnancy and spare me the Spanish Inquisition.

On a similar note, there's STD (or do I have to say STI now?) tests. I am systematically tested for STDs every year when I get my pap smear, and for certain STDs every time I give blood. I have no problem with this. I know that there is no possible way that I have an STD, but if they want to test for it, fine. What they do with my blood or pap culture in the lab has no effect whatsoever on me, and this improves my credibility every time I say "There's no possible way I have an STD," and the test comes back negative, corroborating my statement. But I've heard of people getting INSULTED and OFFENDED at the idea of their being tested for STDs. Why? The test doesn't give you an STD. It doesn't change your morals or your sexual behaviour. In fact, it provides documentary evidence supporting that you are representing your sexual behaviour correctly.

So why does the idea of the blood lab running more tests than the patient thinks are strictly necessary bother people so much?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick

I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. I'm not quite sure why it has the title that it does. Any assessment that I might make is overshadowed by the fact that, throughout the second half of the book, random chapters narrated by an omniscient narrator suddenly pop up. The ostensible first-person narrator is the protagonist, but these random third-person chapters contain information about other people that she could never have known. It really made me think that the author lost control of the story.

The plot itself is okay, but nothing I'm too enthusiastic about. I don't really care that much about the characters, and I don't think I'd ever pick up the book again - not out of dislike, but simply because I already read it. I guess this book didn't work on me.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Vendange Chardonnay

This is one of those new tetrapak wines. I have to admit, I felt funny buying it. Like I was being all uber-cheap or something (although it isn't really that cheap - it's $6.95, but it only contains 3 glasses). It reminds me of a drinking box more than anything else, and makes me feel like I'm trying to sneak around, trying to hide the fact that I have wine. I felt vaguely embarrassed about the whole thing.

The wine itself is okay. it's less complex than Chardonnay normally is, but I wasn't expecting too too much because the wine is in a freaking drinking box!

I wouldn't mind this wine if for some reason I wanted to have wine in a situation where it isn't convenient to have a bottle, but it isn't good enough to sell me on the whole tetrapak thing.

Things They Should Invent: cliché carbon dating

When was the last time a safe or a piano fell?
When was the last time people regularly set pies out on windowsills to cool?
When was the last time doctors wore those reflector things on their heads?
When was the last time professors wore academic robes to class?
When was the last time nurses wore nurse costumes instead of scrubs?
When was the last time daily newspapers were regularly delivered by children?
When was the last time people ran away with a bundle tied to the end of a stick?
When was the last time old ladies and housewives regularly wore curlers in the middle of the day?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

This blog entry is brought to you by REM sleep

Here are some thoughts on other people's reactions to the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. I wasn't originally planning on blogging this, but last night a recurring theme in my dreams was that it was absolutely vital that I get this blogged. (These dreams also had cheat codes and easter eggs, so I'm not sure what that means.)

1. Some people say it's tacky and partisan to go around placing blame on the US government at a time like this. However, I think it's very pragmatic to loudly and vehemently blame any relevant government officials for any shortcomings whatsoever. Why? Because if they get a lot of loud blaming, then they and any future governments will put higher priority on disaster prevention and relief, because they know how much blame they'll get if their response is anything less than impeccable.

2. Some people say it's unreasonable to expect everyone to have been rescued. After all, it's not like they can push a button and instantly deploy resources to rescue hundreds of thousands of people. Again, I think that, pragmatically, people should go on loudly complaining about the slowness of the response and the fact that not everyone was rescued. Complain enough, and they're sure to come up with some way to rescue hundreds of thousands of people at the push of a button.

3. There has been talk of abandoning/relocating New Orleans. Then there have been other people who say that's ridiculous - you don't abandon San Francisco because there's an earthquake. I think this is apples and oranges. The thing about New Orleans is it's underwater! The only reason it isn't normally flooded is because of human-created technology. I haven't been able to find out how it got there in the first place ("Hmmm...this would be a perfect place for a city - we just have to move all this water!") but the fact is it isn't naturally habitable land. San Francisco might be on a fault line, but it's not like people could tell when settling there. However, whoever came to New Orleans first must have noticed it was under water, so it's a far less natural place to settle.

Angst! Drama! Eyewear!

I want big movie-star sunglasses, like is just becoming trendy right now. Unfortunately, there are none of those in my price range.

I want small, subtle, feminine indoor glasses. Unfortunately, the only pair that looks decent on me is too big.

I don't know what I did to get such bad karma.

I am terribly cranky about this. Although that might be because I spent 10.5 hours wearing really high heels (My motto: If you can't be assertive, then be six feet tall) and I haven't had my dinner yet.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Mash-up bunny

Someone should do a mash-up of Abba's Fernando with Cake's Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps (which, I know, is a cover of a Spanish-language song called Quizas Quizas Quizas, but I don't know if the Spanish version is musically compatible).

I don't know if they're in compatible keys, but the section of Fernando that starts with "There was something in the air that night..." reminds me of the section of Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps that starts with "If you can't make your mind up..."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clarke

This book is not really compelling enough for its length. It clocks in at 782 pages, but it was quite easy to put down. I didn't mind reading it in situations where I normally read, like on the subway, at lunch, during commercial breaks, in waiting rooms, but I didn't really feel compelled to pick it up at other times. This isn't necessarily a problem, but when a book is almost 800 pages long, the reader should want to know what happens next.

The book is about magicians, and one thing that really bothered me was that the rules of magic weren't clearly definied. I'm used to reading magic in the Potterverse where the rules and limits of magic are quite clear, so it was a bit odd having no idea whatsoever what the magicians might do to resolve a particular problem.

Now that I think about it, it would be cool to see a Harry Potter/Strange & Norrell crossover. The two universes are mostly reconcilable - there's just the tricky use of Faerie in the Strange & Norrell universe. There's a challenge for a fanfic writer: reconcile Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so that it fits into the Potterverse.

Pelee Island Eco Trail

I don't know why it's called "Eco Trail". It's a blend of Vidal and Pinot Blanc, neither of which I'm terribly familiar with, but I quite enjoy the end result. It's very refreshing - a patio wine. I don't know what's "Eco" about it though.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

I think this is the opposite of schadenfreude

Several things are causing me moderate amounts of angst/drama/stress right now. Cumulatively, this puts me in a cystic acne/greying hair/yelling at inanimate objects when I'm alone/trying not to snap at people/tempted to eat salt, fat and sugar and drink an extra glass of wine sort of mood.

The problem is, the situations that are exposing me to these stressful things are all situations that I am quite fortunate to be in. Many people are not this fortunate, and I'm sure that the people I generally confide in would be thinking "Oh, that I should have such problems!" (although they are certainly decent enough not to say it to my face). They are actual stressors - valid concerns and difficult situations, not "Boo hoo, our million-dollar home is on a golf course!" but I still feel that I shouldn't be worrying. I can hear some indefinite nagger saying "Just do something, deal with the outcome, and stop bitching!" Which, of course, makes me more stressed thinking that I shouldn't be feeling stressed.

Nutrition question

Can a person survive on empty calories alone?

For example, suppose you're stranded somewhere with no food, but an infinite supply of, say, high-calorie cola beverages. This will obviously provide for your hydration needs (it's not as good as water, but it isn't 100% diuretic) and it will provide a lot of calories, but no nutrients. So would you still starve to death, or would you survive? I realize eventually you'd get vitamin deficiencies, but would the end result of living only on cola beverages be closer to living on only one type of food, or living on only water?

Help identify the mystery comic strip character!

In the 75th anniversary Blondie comic strip, who's the blue guy with the yellow nose standing the the left (our left, his right) of Hagar?

He's in the back row of the right-hand group, sort of just over Alexander's shoulder. Look at Blondie, then Alexander, then keep moving your eyes to the right and you see Blue Guy, then Hagar, then Ziggy, etc. Who's the blue guy?

Friday, September 02, 2005


When people are charming, are they charming intentionally?

I have no idea, because I don't know how to be charming. I don't think I've ever been charming in my life.

But some people can be charming, and sometimes they're only charming some of the time. Is it an intentional decision? "I think I'll be charming now," the same way I might decide "I'm going to act grown up and professional now." Do they have an actual process they follow? "Okay, I'm being charming, so I should shake hands and smile and say such and such." Or is it all intuitive?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Water purification after a flood

How does water purification work? I know there is such thing as water purification tablets. I know there is such thing as portable water purification facilities. But I haven't heard any talk of sending water purification equipment to the areas affected by the hurricane to purify the flood waters for drinking purposes. Is this not possible? What am I missing?

Moral authority

Daou Report has a lot of interesting things to say about US politics and moral authority.

I have something small to add to all this.

The impression I get, as a foreigner watching this from the outside (albeit from ringside seats), is that those in power in the US think they have moral authority because they are Americans. It really seems to me that current US foreign policy is based on the tacit assumption that "Hey, we're the good guys!" It's like they don't feel the need to give any thought to making sure that they maintain moral authority, because, hey, they're the hero of the movie, they're the cowboys in white hats. Of course they're the good guys!

I think they could use a lesson or two on noblesse oblige from Professor Dumbledore.

Other people are poor!

Xoverboard gives words to something I've been trying to articulate for years: some people just don't understand that other people are poor!

This goes beyond just immediate current events into something that's been bugging me my entire life. My father would often go on rants about how a family of four on welfare would get as much money in a month as my mother used in a month for household expenses. I am not in a position to confirm these numbers, and I don't know if the statement is still applicable today, but even if it is true the fact remains that people on welfare don't have assets! My parents have a house with a paid-off mortgage and a paid-off car, a job with pension and benefits, credit cards, a good credit rating, RRSPs, and an unknown (but, judging by empirical evidence, appreciable) amount of investments.

On welfare, you cannot have assets. It's not allowed! You can't have social assistance if you have more than $200 in assets! (And I cannot think of a single place below the tree line where $200 could buy you a month's rent in any sort of accomodation whatsoever).

You simply can't compare $X per month with appreciable assets to $X per month with no assets. There's a huge difference, and this really hit home from me when I realized that I could easily evacuate by hopping on the next plane to anywhere.
When you have assets, you have options. You may live like a monk on a day-to-day basis, but when an emergency occurs, you can throw money at it and make the problem go away. People on welfare can't do that.

When I was in university, my wallet was stolen just before a long weekend. I had no money, no ID, no TTC tokens, no way to get cash, and nowhere near enough food to get through the weekend. So I called my parents. They used their nice, paid-for car to drive an hour to get me and an hour back. I used their computer (bought with a discount through my father's work) and internet access (a benefit of my father's job) to download the appropriate forms to replace my ID. Then their neighbour, who has known me since I was a baby, was kind enough to sign my forms as a guarantor. My mother then handed me $200, in cash, to tide me over until I got my ID and bank cards replaced.

People on social assistance wouldn't have a car, and poor people with a car would have to think long and hard about whether they can afford the gas for an unexpected two-hour trip. They probably would not have a computer - they'd have to go to a public library or wait until the long weekend was over and stand in line at a government office (both of which are hard when your transit tokens are also gone). Unless they live in a really mixed neighbourhood and socialize with people in other buildings, they aren't going to have neighbours who hold jobs that make them suitable guarantors. And that $200 my mother so kindly gave me, probably without even thinking twice? That is all you're allowed to have in the world if you're on social assistance. If she'd handed me another $20, even if there was nothing in my bank account, I would have been considered too rich for social assistance. Things are different when you have assets.

The other thing that better-off people have is stuff. All my furniture came from my parents' house. They both lived independently before getting married, so they had enough extra furniture to furnish my apartment. Therefore, I didn't have to worry about "Can I afford furniture?" Poor people don't have extra perfectly good furniture sitting around. If they did, they'd sell it. So if their furniture breaks, they have to replace it or do without. If their kid moves out, they have to find their own furniture or do without, thus making it that much harder for their kid to achieve adult independence.

Having a decent-paying job, I buy clothes as particular items strike my fancy. Therefore, I have far more clothes than strictly necessary in my closet - many of which I never wear because they have become slightly worn or unfashionable or I have acquired something else I like better. If I had a financial disaster and could not afford to buy new clothes, I would probably be good for at least a year before I started to have gaps in my wardrobe. I would look less fashionable, less attractive, and more threadbare, but I'd have enough clothes to get me through. If my boots become unwearable and I can't replace them, I can always wear my old boots. They're a bit worn out, but I could make do if necessary. Poor people don't have this option. If they have a disaster that eats up what clothing budget they have, and then their boots become unwearable, they'll just have to do without boots. They can't tap into their savings or withdraw a GIC early or wait until their next payday - they simply have no way to get new boots.

Other people are poor.

It's really quite humbling to think about.