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.