Sunday, December 31, 2006

Things They Should Invent: dog stroller

I don't have a car, which is fine considering where I live. I want a dog, which would normally be fine without a car, considering where I live. Everything I or a dog could want is within walking distance. Even going to the vet shouldn't be a problem, since a walk to the park would involve walking right past the vet's office, so if I take the dog to the park frequently, it won't realize we're going to the vet until we actually walk in the door.

But what if the dog needs to go to the vet because it's sick or hurt in a way that makes it painful or impossible for the dog to walk to the vet? If it's a very small dog, I can carry it. But I'm not particularly strong and the vet is a few blocks away, so I may well not be able to carry the dog all the way to the vet in a way that's safe and comfortable for both of us. I could call a taxi or a pet taxi, but it seems a ridiculously short distance to be driven. I would walk it myself if I were in pain, it's just that I wouldn't make my dog walk if it were in pain.

I was pondering this in the shower today, and the best solution I could think of is making some modifications to a granny cart. However, this doesn't seem a particularly pleasant environment for a dog, especially since the easiest way to move a granny cart is to tilt it and pull it backwards - pushing it flat and forwards is harder.

So what I want is a stroller-type device specially designed to safely and comfortably transport a dog, just for those situations where the dog can't walk but I can.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Vacations are better when you're a grownup

I'm taking the next week off work. This is the first time I've taken any serious amount of time off since I started my job 3.5 years ago. I've taken lots of long weekends, but never a whole week before.

I just realized something incredibly cool: I can actually take this time off! There isn't anything else I "should" be doing! Ever since I started high school, vacations have come with a sense that I should be having a job or doing something productive. All time off school was spent either working, looking for work, or feeling guilty for not working. (Plus practicing music, getting ahead on schoolwork, etc.) And there was no such thing as time off work, because if I didn't go to work I didn't get paid.

But now I have paid vacation time, and since I still have a job and am still getting paid (unless something diastrous happens in the interim), I can legitimately and without any guilt whatsoever do whatever the hell I want. I can sleep until noon, eat ice cream, and play videogames all day if I want, and anyone who would tell me that I should use my time more productively would be way out of line! This is so cool!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Doggie disaster near-miss

There's an adoptable dog on Dogster that I had my eye on. Her size, breed, and temperament seem a good fit, and she even has floppy ears! But, after some thought, I decided to postpone getting a dog until I've got the new apartment. A few more dogless months seemed a reasonable sacrifice to give me a the best possible chance of getting a dishwasher and in-suite laundry in a brand-new building. So I stopped checking Dogster on a regular basis.

But today I did decide to look at Dogster, just because I was in a doggie sort of mood. To my surprise, the dog I was thinking of adopting was still there. To my greater surprise, she had a litter of puppies! I googled up canine gestation periods, and it looks like she was newly pregnant when I was first considering adopting her!

But her profile never said she was pregnant when I first looked! It's quite likely that her humans didn't know yet, but imagine if I'd accidentally adopted a pregnant dog! I mean, puppies rock, but I'm far too novice a dog owner to have a whole litter of brand new puppies! I don't even know how to go about rehoming dogs, and my apartment is way too small for six dogs!

So, lessons learned: Make sure that any dog I adopt is spayed/neutered. Maybe even have a vet look them over before I commit (is that socially acceptable?)

Another lesson learned: I had to look up a dog gestation period, I didn't know it offhand. This means that I should get a book on basic dog medical stuff. I never thought of that before - I've been focusing on psychology and training - but obviously I don't know enough if I had to look up the gestation period. Can anyone recommend a doggie medical book that can be understood by someone who never even took biology in high school?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Slow news day?

The following pieces of advice were found in the Boxing Day edition of the Hamilton Spectator:

1. Feed your children whole-grain food whenever possible.
2. Buy fresh, locally-grown produce when in season.
3. You might want to put some lotion on your hands so they don't get dry or cracked.
4. Strictly speaking, your belt should match your shoes.
5. Down bedcovers are very warm.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Got back this afternoon, in time to do my laundry and enjoy most of the Enterprise marathon. Things were okay, but being chez les parents reinforced my desire for an urban, carfree life completely separate from them. I'd forgotten how much friendlier Toronto dog owners are though. I saw the most adorable beagle ever and said "Hi puppy!" and its people looked at me all suspicious, like "Why are you talking to my dog?" (In Toronto, people tend to either engage me and allow me to engage the dog, or just smile at me, or heel the dog if they're trying to train it, which I take as a sign to stop attempting to engage the dog. I never get negative reactions about talking to other people's dogs here.)

I was staying at my parents' overnight but my sister wasn't (b/c she lives much closer), so I got to be an only child, which I haven't been able to do since I was two. Unfortunately, sleeping in my childhood bed makes me dream that I'm in high school again.

I got to see my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandmothers, got to laugh at assorted fathers being all squicked out that my one (female) cousin now lives in the gaybourhood (why are people allowed to have daughters when they can't even empathize with a female perspective?), got to enjoy lots of good mommy-food and babcia-food and take leftovers home with me. I am a bit tired though from all the constant people, and I have to work all the rest of this week, so I'll be back with more later once I decompress some. Luckily I get the first week of January off so I can recover properly from xmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Better than using it an an audition piece...

Whoever can translate the introduction to Everything Is Illuminated should get a prize! Whoever can effectively translate it into Ukrainian, while retaining a reasonable amount of the humour, gets to be god (until a more difficult translation challenge comes along.)

New Rule

Taken in a vacuum, I don't mind if people don't send me a birthday card. I tend not to notice the absence of something anyway.

Taken in a vacuum, I guess I don't mind if people send me xmas cards. I'm not religious or anything, but I can accept that some people have this bizarre need to send a generic greeting to everyone they know for some weird reason.

The problem is when people - like family and friends, real people with whom I have a greeting card relationship - send me a xmas card from their generic "OMG must send a card to everyone I know!" list, and pretend that's suitable acknowledgement of my birthday. I'm not even xian! Just because you sent me a generic card for some holiday near my birthday doesn't mean you've acknowledged my birthday! It makes me feel like you don't care at all about me as an individual, and instead value me simple because I make your list of "People I know" one name longer. I'd rather get nothing at all than a xmas card but no birthday card. If you choose not to acknowledge me at all, that's fine, but I'm sick of being given greetings for a religious thing I don't even celebrate and expected to take that as greetings for my birthday!

Therefore, I am introducing a new rule: If you send me a xmas card and expect it to count as birthday greetings, for your birthday you are getting a greeting card for some religious holiday in a religion to which you don't subscribe, with nary a Happy Birthday comment added.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy birthday to:

Happy birthday to:

1. L.S. from high school. I can't seem to track you down online because of a quasi-celebrity with the same name as you, mais je te souhaite mes meilleurs voeux et j'espère que tout aille bien pour toi.

2. Musey. I don't think you still use that name (I no longer use the name I used when we met) but you know who you are.

3. Vidman, who I don't know at all, but has the exact same birthday as me (year and everything) AND hosts the French baguette commercial on his website, so he gets a free link from me.

The REAL problem with all this xmas shit. For real this time.

I know, I said I've found the real problem like 12 zillion times. But I've got it for real this time:

The real problem is that people:

1. Go out of their way to do something xmassy in the public sphere. Decorations, parties, special meals, school assemblies. THEN...
2. Because they're supposed to be neutral, they take this xmassy thing that they're exceptionally going out of their way to do, and give it a "politically correct" name. Oftentimes they give it an overly excessive "politically correct name, like those people who use the word humankind when the perfectly good word humanity exists. E.g. "Happy Merry non-denominational winter holiday thingy!" THEN...
3. Declare this ridiculous excessive political correctness to be a War on Christmas and declare anyone who just...doesn't want to be all xmas all the time 24/7 to be oppressive and anti-xian and whatnot.

The real problem is not that things are labelled more inclusively. The real problem is that everyone is going to great, big, exceptional trouble to saturate everything with a xmas theme in the first place! All they have to do is not decorate public space and smother it with carols, not make special xmas events when you're supposed to be inclusive and simply change the nomenclature. If labelling something "Christmas" would be politically incorrect, just don't do something xmassy under another name. Let people do it in their own homes, in their own families and religions, where it has meaning.

FBORFW theory

Just because I haven't seen it postulated yet:

I theorize that the Kelpfroths are going to die in the fire, Lovey's going to die in the fire, and Lovey's going to will the house to Mike and Deanna.

Spam motivation

A lot of the spam I get is trying to sell me stocks. Thing is, I'm not worldly enough to know how to go about buying stocks (sure I could find out, but I don't know offhand), but I am worldly enough to know not to buy stocks just because a piece of spam told me so. So that must mean that there are some people out there who know how to buy stocks, but don't know enough not to buy stocks recommended by spammers. I wonder who these people are?

Sometimes I google innocuous words and end up with results that are trying to trick me into clicking on what will likely end up being a porn website. This I also find odd. Why do you want to trick me into viewing porn? Aren't there enough people out there actively looking for porn? Do they really think I'm so distractable that I'm going to drop my line of research and subscribe to their porn?

Audition piece, anyone?

If you can do a decent Slavic accent (ideally Ukrainian, but anything Slavic would do (but don't tell them I said that)), the "Overture to the Commencement of a Very Rigid Journey" (i.e. the introduction) to Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated would be the best audition piece ever.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Things They Should Invent: basic palliative care training

I was reading about a family where an elderly grandmother was dying and needed hospice care, and the hospice people taught the family all this stuff: ways to adapt the house and the daily routine to make it easier for the grandmother, how exactly to help her with personal care, etc. etc.

As I was reading, I thought those would be really useful things to know - not just for if someone's dying, but for if someone's more generically sick. But they don't teach it to people until their family member has reached the palliative care stage. Why not have classes available for the general public to learn the basics, just like they have first aid classes available for just anyone to take?

Happy birthday to me!

Last year for my birthday, I got the release date for the 6th Harry Potter book.

This year for my birthday (well, birthday eve) I got the title of the 7th Harry Potter book.

But I'm a little bit sad that this is probably the last time I'll get Harry Potter news for my birthday.

Dear J.K. Rowling: Please make the release date for Book 7 December 22, 2007, just so I can have some Harry Potter for my birthday one last time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The non-decorating brain

Of all the things in my life that people keep requiring that I justify, the weirdest one that keeps coming up is the fact that I don't decorate. I don't just mean xmas decorations (although I don't do those either), I mean any interior decoration whatsoever. The walls of my apartment are the same standard-issue colour that they were when I moved in. My furniture is almost all yoinked from my parents' house. My curtains are red because that's my favourite colour and my mother asked me what colour curtains I want. I don't have any art, apart from a few kiddie-drawings and a few mi-cielito drawings, all pinned to a bulletin board. (Why a bulletin board? Because I've always had one.)

People take this as a sign of not being grownup - still living like a poor student. But really it's a sign that my brain just doesn't do decorating. Really. I am aware that, in theory, this is not the optimal colour for the walls, but I am quite simply incapable of thinking of a better colour. If you showed me a swatch and asked me if I want that colour on my walls, the best-informed answer I could come up with is "dunno." I know that my rugs are fugly, but I can't go to the store and look at rugs and figure out which one would be better. Yes, I probably should have new furniture, but my eyes just glaze over when I go into a furniture store. I've picked up a few pieces of design theory along the way, but my brain simply does not process colour and texture and coordination. I read the condo section of the Toronto Star every week and it always has all kinds of "decorating ideas," but I am congenitally incapable of extrapolating from "decorating ideas" to "something I can do to make my apartment look better." Everything just scans as "not applicable." This is also why, apart from the occasional attempt to make a vase of flowers not die, I don't decorate seasonally. The part of the brain that sees a decoration and thinks "This would look good in such-and-such a place" just isn't functional in me. Despite the protests of the annoying contingent who say "Of course you can decorate! You just have to put your mind to it! Be creative! Decorating is fun!" my brain simply does not work in that direction. It's too busy inventing stuff and thinking of analogies and automatically tracking the etymological roots of the made-up alien languages that Hoshi Sato speaks.

The problem with school for introverts

Literature and websites talk about most of the reasons why introverted children find school difficult, but there's one I've never seen mentioned: for most of your school years, it is socially unacceptable to be alone or to not have any friends in whatever context you're in.

There were some times at school when I didn't have any friends whatsoever, and many others when I didn't have any friends in my particular class or activity. Personally and in a vacuum, this wasn't that much of a problem. I would have been quite happy to spend recess and lunch alone in my head, or to do any group projects single-handedly. The problem was that my classmates would actively torment me for not having friends, or even for merely being spotted walking around alone. This made everything into an ordeal. I had to find some friends who I could spend recess with so that I wouldn't have to be seen alone. I had to find some friends in each class so I wouldn't be left adrift for group work and so I'd have someone to sit with at lunch. I had to come up with something to do (or at least to say I had done) each weekend other than finish my homework and chores and recover from school, because that one teacher started each week by asking everyone what they did on the weekend, and it was more than my life was worth than to be caught saying "Nothing."

The thing of it was, in childhood there is no concept of acquaintanceship. Kids don't (or, at least, my peers didn't) grasp the concept of working with someone just because they're in your class and the project has to be done, or eating lunch at the same table as someone just because they needed a place to sit. No no no, you can only work or eat lunch with people who are your friends - and like real friends, come-over-to-my-house-and-play friends. And even if you have dozens of friends elsewhere, it was still a matter of shame to not have a friend in this room right now.

And, of course, the grownups didn't help. "So have you made any friends in your class?" they'd ask, as though this were expected and necessary. As though we should be able to find people we'd like to invite over to our house and play with our stuff in any randomly generated collection of peers. (Aside: some of my older relatives still say this to me - "So, have you made any friends at work?" - and in the exact same tone of voice.) We were simply never exposed to the idea that you can get along decently with someone at school without being friends with them, that people have private lives outside of school, and that there's no shame in not having a friend right by your side this exact minute.

All of which is downright exhausting when you really don't need a friend by your side for personal reasons, but you still have to constantly hustle to make sure you're never seen alone just to avoid torture.

Meaningless greeting cards

Once upon a time, I was shopping for a greeting card. A friend, who shall remain anonymous so as not to reflect poorly on them, was also shopping for a greeting card. For various reasons, we didn't really want to be getting greeting cards for our intended recipients. We didn't particularly like them and would have preferred to give them no attention whatsoever, but unfortunately it was one of those situations where to not give a card would have been actively insulting, and we didn't exactly want to be actively insulting.

We went about this different ways. I looked through a lot of cards, trying to find one that wasn't too enthusiastic or affectionate, and didn't express any sentiments that I didn't actually feel.

My friend unceremoniously grabbed the first card they found from the cheap section.

That made me realize that I really was putting a lot of thought and effort into a card for someone I didn't care about. But still, I can't bring myself to do that - not out of any deep hidden affection for people I don't like, but because I'd feel dirty signing and sending off a card that contained a stronger sentiment than I feel. I'm not sure what that means.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Karma police

I lost my debit card. I've called to have it cancelled and replaced, but I'm probably going to be without one for the rest of the month, which hinders my ability to acquire cash. I'm okay for money, (and I can get a temporary debit card with much more limited powers) but actual cash is at a bit more of a premium, probably for the rest of the month.

Thing is, Friday is my birthday. Traditionally on my birthday, I do my annual karma boost. It's a very personal thing so I don't want to share the details, but the important thing for the purpose of this post is that it involves, entre autres, the ritual dissemination of cash in accordance with a certain formula. It has to be cash, it has to be on my birthday, and the nature of the ritual is that I don't have the cash any more when it's finished.

If I do my ritual normally, this will put a significant dent in my supply of cash. I'm not worried about its effect on my finances - that's part of the point of this exercise - but I will probably end up short on actual pieces of paper. I have credit cards, but I'm not entirely comfortable with wandering around without actual cash.

But the purpose of the ritual is to boost my karma, and losing my debit card is probably a sign that my karma is running low. I could perhaps convince myself that the inconvenience of working with limited cash is a good sacrifice to make for boosting my karma - giving until it hurts etc. - but if I'm honest with myself, the point of my karma boost was never to inconvenience myself, it was simply to share the wealth, to post a net loss for the day rather than making a profit. I would withdraw the amount of cash in question from the bank the morning of or the night before, and the actual physical contents of my wallet would be unaffected.

I know, I know, at this point you're probably thinking "Awwww, poor baby! She has all the money she needs in her bank account but just can't get at it 24/7!" Believe me, I'm well aware that some people don't even have enough to have a bank account. I've been there myself, that's why I started this ritual in the first place. It's just that if I short myself on cash, I'll really be stuck if the power goes out or the credit card network goes down, and that isn't my intention. Having cash is part of my emergency survival plan, and I don't know if a simple misplacement is worth jeopardizing my emergency survival plan. But neither do I feel justified in holding back generosity towards others because I had a minor misfortune, to say nothing of the risks of leaving my karma down where it is.

The real problem with all this xmas nonsense

Here's the problem, right here.

Monday, December 18, 2006


You know those things in the grocery store that are like big metal baskets and have wheels and you push them around and put all your groceries in them?

I call it a buggy.

I think I'm the only person in the world who does that. Everyone else calls it a cart.

I have no idea why I call it a buggy.

Now this is just weird

My superintendents gave me (and all the other tenants, I assume) the most religious xmas card ever.

This is especially weird because they're brand new superindentents. They've been here literally 2 weeks. I've talked to Mrs. Super once, when she knocked on my door to let the guys who were replacing the toilet into the apartment. Our conversation was as follows: "The plumbers are here." "Okay, thanks." We would never even recognize each other walking down the street.

A card from someone with whom I have no relationship whatsoever is a bit odd. A religious card from someone who has no idea what religion I am or am not is rather odd. Put them together, and frankly it's bordering on presumptuous.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Just one question

For those people who get offended when customer service people and randoms don't greet them with "Merry Christmas":

How are people supposed to be able to tell that you, personally, celebrate xmas?

Silly job interview advice

Job interview advice always says to do research on the prospective employer, but it never says what kind of information they want me to research, or what they want me to do with that research. The example given is always taking something you'd see in the business section of the newspaper and making some kind of question or comment about how that relates to the position you'd be interviewing for, but I've never had a job or interviewed for a job where that advice was relevant. I'd be happy to do any necessary research in preparation for the interview, but I haven't the slightest idea what kind of research they want me to do, and I'm not able to extrapolate from the general advice usually given to figure out what's expected for any specific position I might interview for.

It's like that often-given advice about putting specific achievements on your resume. The example they always give is something like "Increased sales by 30%." I've never had a job where my achievements were so specifically quantifiable, and I've always worked as part of a team, so even if there were specific achievements I can't take credit for them. When I do a good job, it's something like "I did everything I was asked to do in the time I was asked to do it in, and the client was satisfied with my work." (And that's the other thing about translation - generally the best that non-translators can say of a translation is that it is satisfactory. It's fine and there are no problems with it. Non-translators rarely notice the difference between a perfectly serviceable translation and a jaw-droppingly ingenious one. They notice problems, but clever word choices and avoidance of common stylistic traps are simply glossed over - that's the mark of a good translation.)

Another reason to take xmas out of public space

I think xmas would be far better if it weren't public. This thought is triggered by this article, which points out that media/pulp culture tends to present The Magic of Christmas Solving Everyone's Problems.

With media/culture/marketing/commercial xmas saturation tends to present xmas as this Big Important Thing with huge cultural significance. Which maybe it is, a lot of people celebrate it. But just imagine for a moment what it would be like if the majority of society didn't celebrate xmas at all, and it was just some obscure little tradition in your religion and/or your family.

Wouldn't that be cool? Once a year, in the depths of winter, your little sect gets together at midnight to celebrate the birth of its messiah. Once a year, on the basis of some archaic tradition from the Old Country, your family gets together under one roof for food and catching up, and maybe to exchange presents. You decorate your home with lights and plants and all kinds of bizarre things like that, and sing special songs. But it's just your thing, an esoteric little quirk peculiar to your family or your religion. Only the people who share your cultural background have lights in their windows and trees in their living rooms and carols on their CD player. Everyone else is going about life normally. Wouldn't that be awesome?

As I blogged before, I reached xmas saturation last week. And that was before anything meaningful had even happened! I'm not religious myself, but it's still a sort of family tradition. I get to see all my cousins (who become increasingly fascinating by the year), I get to eat special food that people simply don't make at other times in the year - if this were happening in a vacuum, it would be charming and enjoyable. But I've been bombarded by decorations and carols and greeting cards from people I do business with for a month already, so once I see my parents' decorations and carols and receive my grandmothers' greeting cards, I'm just meh. The meaningless public fracas saturates me before the meaningful private celebration can even begin. If there were no xmas in public space, I would be giddily rejoicing in my parents' lights and carols, maybe even decorating my own home. But as it stands, all the lights and carols in public just leave me wanting a respite.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Silly serving sizes

I just noticed that a brick of cheese in my fridge describes the serving size as "per 1.5 cm slice."

But the cheese is a rectangular prism! The faces come in three different sizes, so a 1.5 cm slice could be any one of these three different sizes! I doubt it's the largest one, but I honestly don't know which size they mean.

An observation

I make a lot of humorous comments in everyday speech, probably more than most people. By "humorous comments", I don't necessarily mean things that are laugh-out-loud funny or require any kind of amused reaction, just comments that have some element of humour or wit in them.

If I take all my interlocutors and organize them by gender and sexual orientation, gay men are most likely to laugh at my humour, followed closely by straight women. Straight men are least likely to laugh at my humour, although more likely than the other groups to repeat it elsewhere (to my knowledge at least - I have no way of knowing what is getting repeated behind my back). (The number of lesbians I interact with on a regular basis is negligible, so I can't really comment on them.)

Of course, this is strictly anecdotal and I don't presume to draw any conclusions.

How to ensure that politicans raise salaries for the greater good only

When politicians vote themselves a salary increase, there should be a sort of backwards grandfather clause: the salary increase will apply to anyone elected to that position in the future, but will not apply to any of the current members involved in voting in the increase. That way, they have nothing to gain from it either way.

The problem with academic projects

Thoughts from the shower: One thing I've always hated in school is when we had to think of our own projects. If the teacher told me to write an essay or do a presentation on a specific topic, I was fine. If they told me to pick something from a limited list of specific topics, I was fine. The problem was when they told me to do just anything, or something from an extremely broad category. "Do an ISU on some element of French or Francophone culture." "Write a computer program." "Document a technology." Except in the rare cases when I was especially interested in something, I found it brutal to pick a topic. It was even worse when the choice of topic was ridiculously broad, but the project requirements were ridiculously specific. "Pick a subject, any subject. Now make a bibliography on that subject. You have to include X encyclopedia articles, Y articles from academic journals, Z articles from the media, and N monographs." "Pick a topic, any topic. Now read three fictional novels on that topic, write a comparative essay, and do a class presentation." I could never tell whether my topic was suitable to meet all those specific project requirements, and half the time the teacher didn't even give the specific project requirements until we'd picked the topic. Assuming the assignment reasonably reflects the course material, I can do a good assignment on any appropriate topic. But I just suck at thinking of appropriate topics!

That just doesn't reflect reality. In every job I've ever had, I was given specific duties. My clients say "Translate this text," not "Find something to translate and then try to sell it to me. Oh, and by the way, the end result needs to be a 12,000 word annual report." When I did tech support, it was "Solve my problem," or "Pick a problem from the queue and solve it," not "Think of any problem in the world, then solve it and implement the solution for all affected users. Oh, and by the way, it needs to affect at least 50 users and not require any hardware upgrades."

I think this is the main reason why I'm hesitant to do my MA. I've been looking at course outlines, and there seems to be a lot of "Pick something and do a big-ass project on it" type work. Want me to research something? Tell me what it is! Want me to translate something? Tell me what it is! I'm not always actively interested in any topics that are relevant to the course, so sometimes I just can't think of anything to do an assignment on, but I can do good work on any suitable topic that you care to assign, even if I'm not interested in it. That should be an asset, not a liability - especially for a translator!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Elected representatives' salaries: factors to consider

Ontario MPPs recently voted themselves a raise. Some factions think this is important so that they can continue to attract quality people. Others think it's reprehensible since they already make far more money than the average Ontarian.

I don't feel particularly qualified to comment on the appropriateness or lack thereof of this raise, but I have noticed that a few factors are missing from public debate on this issue, so I'm just going to list those factors here and allow people to do what they want with them:

- Running for office represents a gap in your regular career. Most employers require that employees take an unpaid leave of absence to run for political office, and they probably have to resign from their normal job if they win. There are ethical rules that prevent politicians from networking effectively for personal gain while in office. They can't do a bit of part-time work on the side. They have to put their business in a blind trust. While you can apply for several normal jobs concurrently and there's very little wrong with rejecting a job offer, if you're elected to public office you have to accept; this means that it's very difficult, if not impossible, for a politician to apply for other jobs as a backup while running for re-election. Conflict of interest rules probably also limit what kinds of work a politician can accept for a period of time after they have been defeated for re-election.

- Politicians (and their families) have to live in the public eye. I don't know about you, but if the make of my shoes, the quality of my dye job, the size of my gut, the stylishness of my glasses, and the way in which I greet my loved ones in public were all subject to media scrutiny, I would expect to be compensated accordingly. If I had children who would be also be subject to this scrutiny, I would expect to be paid even more.

- Elected officials don't work only when Parliament/legislature/whatever is sitting. They also sit on committees, do constituency work, deal with the media and have to attend all manner of public events. Which brings me to...

- Politicians can't just refuse an invitation. If I am invited to a civic event, I can just say no.
Friend: "Hey, want to go to Pride?"
Me: "Nah, it's too hot out and I'm not that into parades."
See, no problem.
But if a politician declines to go to Pride, it's seen as an anti-gay gesture. Multiply that by every event at all ever, all of which they can possibly decline for a prior commitment, but not just to stay at home with a good book and a glass of wine.

So do they already get paid in a way that reflects all these things? Maybe, maybe not. I couldn't tell you. I just want people to take these things into account when calculating how much politicians should get paid.

Dirty old people

The bad: on the subway today, this extremely frail old man sat next to me. By my best assessment, he was 100 years old and Chinese. He sat way too close to me. It was odd, because he appeared to be properly centred in his seat, but he was WAY closer to me than necessary. I'm a bit above average size-wise, as women go, but well within the range of normal for the general population. And this guy was tiny. I've sat next to thousands of people on the subway, and I assure you there was no excuse for him to be that close to me! Then the train pulled into a stop, and he stood up early so that he could "accidentally" fall into my lap as the train slowed down. I've lost my balance the subway dozens of times, and this was definitely on purpose - even the lady across from me could tell. I had to change clothes when I got home, because my clothes were psychologically tainted. What's odd is this is the second time a 100-year-old Chinese man has invaded my personal space on the subway while acting completely innocent about it.

The not-bad: my upstairs neighbour has a wobbly bed. Today I saw my upstairs neighbour in the mailroom. She's well over 80 years old! I want to be her when I grow up!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

An observation

Suppose I'm sitting somewhere where there's music and dancing. (I know, I don't belong in that kind of place and I don't know how to dance anyway, but bear with me for plot purposes.)

Guy 1: Would you like to dance?
Me: No thanks, I'm taken.


Society as a whole: that has nothing to do with it! Dancing is a simple, innocent social activity and in no way implies the promise of anything romantic or sexual! You're free to dance with anyone regardless of your relationship status.
Me: But I don't want to dance with random strangers! I'm not comfortable with that degree of physical contact or implied intimacy with any strange man who happens to walk up to me.
Society as a whole: PRUDE! Dancing with a lot of different people is a standard part of social interaction at places where there is dancing! If you're not comfortable with that, you should go home!
Me: I will in a minute, just let me finish this skit and make my point.


Guy 2: Hi, would you like to dance?
Me: No thanks, but Guy 1 here is looking for someone to dance with.
Guys 1 & 2: OMG, no, we're not gay!
Me: that has nothing to do with it! Dancing is a simple, innocent social activity and in no way implies the promise of anything romantic or sexual! You're free to dance with anyone regardless of your relationship status.


Society as a whole: You know full well that isn't the point! Stop being so disingenuous!


It's true. According to general etiquette (Miss Manners), if you're in a dancing-type place you should be willing to dance with just about anyone, just to be polite and sociable. Miss Manners is very emphatic that it's not to be considered romantic or sexual at all. But just try taking one of those people who insists that it's not romantic or sexual, and pairing them up with a partner of their non-target gender!

Monday, December 11, 2006


WAAAH! I hate all my clothes!
WAAAH! After years of lobbying for women's pants with pockets, I can't find any without pockets!
WAAAH! My old size 13 pants from Smart Set are too big!
WAAAH! Current size 13 pants in-store at Smart Set are too small!
WAAAH! There's no single item of clothing available that, once purchased, will solve all my problems in the world forever!
WAAAH! And when I do buy clothes, they cost money!
WAAAH! The magical stain remover only removed about 1/3 of the impossible-to-remove stains!
WAAAH! And there's lint on my black shirt!
WAAAH! And there's lint on my lint brush!
WAAAH! And my clothes are wrinkled!
WAAAH! But I don't want to iron!
WAAAH! And my body hair is growing too fast and too dark!
WAAAH! And my head hear is growing too slow and too light!
WAAAH! And I can't find any white chocolate!
WAAAH! And the white chocolate I did find smells too chocolatey!
WAAAH! My work is boring!
WAAAH! My clients keep interrupting my boring work to send hard work!
WAAAH! I want some time off!
WAAAH! But I don't want to use up my vacation days on something so frivolous as time off!
WAAAH! I don't want my statutory holidays to occur during xmas season!
WAAAH! But I want everything to smell like pine trees in the middle of winter!
WAAAH! I'm tired!
WAAAH! I don't want to go to bed!
WAAAH! But I want to sleep forever!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Someone explain science to me?

I have some wet clothes hanging to dry. They appear to be drying from the top down - i.e. currently the top part is dry, but the bottom is still damp. This would imply that the water is dripping out of them, which would makes sense because water tends to do that.


They stopped dripping a long time ago! When they stopped dripping, they were still uniformly damp (as far as I could perceive by sight and touch). Since they aren't dripping, that would imply that the water should be evaporating uniformly. But it's evaporating from the top down! Why is this happening when they aren't dripping???

Things They Should Invent: self-declared two-tier citizenship

With all the silly fuss about Stéphane Dion's inherited dual citizenship, it occurs to me that it would be helpful to have the option of two-tier citizenship.

Don't worry, I don't mean that the government declares some citizens to be more equal than others.

I mean that individuals who possess dual (or triple - is that possible? If two people with different hereditary citizenships have a baby in a third country?) citizenship can optionally declare one of their citizenships to be their primary citizenship. Perhaps there could be minor consequences (can't vote in your country of secondary citizenship? must travel on your primary passport?) but the general idea is to symbolically favour one country without the symbolic slight of renouncing your other citizenship.

Why not just renounce your secondary citizenship? Apart from the fact that some countries don't allow you to renounce citizenship, renunciation tends to imply that you seriously disapprove of the other country. Remember all the fuss when Conrad Black renounced his Canadian citizenship so that he could be given a British peerage? And then when he was apparently considering taking up Canadian citizenship again, people were all offended because he's already renounced us? Not everyone wants to give their other country such a slap in the face. (Aside: wouldn't it be ironic if Stéphane Dion renounced his French citizenship, then became PM, then it leaked into France that the PM of Canada had renounced his French citizenship, and it caused an international incident because they got all offended?)

I somewhat identify with dual citizenship dilemmas because I'm second-and-a-half generation; if circumstances had been different, I could have inherited a second citizenship myself - my mother's country of birth just happened to assign citizenship differently at the time that her family left. I've never even been to my mother's country of birth. I was born in Canada, I've lived in Canada all my life, English is my first language and French is my second. I can stumble through a few words of my mother's mother tongue, but that's only because I'm the family language geek. I am Canadian - there is simply nothing else for me to be. I experience my second culture as an academic elective and a few family quirks.

If I had inherited citizenship from my mother's country of birth, I might feel the need to make it clear that my Canadian citizenship is predominant. To the casual observer this is obvious, but some people read quite a lot into dual citizenship, and some countries like to exert a stronger claim on their citizens. I might feel the need to explicitly state: "Canada, you're #1. Old Country, you're #2." But at the same time, I don't have anything against the Old Country. It's just that they're not my country. If I found myself renouncing an Old Country citizenship, it wouldn't be anything against that country, it would just be the only mechanism I have to assert the fact that Canada is #1. But the Old Country might consider that something of a slight. "What on earth does she have against us?" And I wouldn't have anything against them, it's just that I am Canadian.

So I propose that dual citizens be able to declare one of their citizenships to be primary. This wouldn't be mandatory - you could walk around with two equal citizenships if that better reflects your needs - but it would give people who fell into dual citizenship through no fault of their own the option of asserting their "loyalty" (I still don't know exactly what's intended by that word) without deliberately dissing the other country. Then we can save renunciation of citizenship for when you actively disapprove of the other country, rather than reducing such a drastic negative measure to a necessity of administrative convenience.

Officially sick of xmas

Note: I have officially become sick of xmas for the year. I would like the stores to go back to normal so I can shop for clothes for myself (and maybe glasses frames) under normal shopping conditions. I would like the statutory holidays to be meaningless to my family rather than the traditional "get the family all together under one roof" day, so I can enjoy actual time off rather than simply exchanging professional obligations for family obligations. I'm officially sick of hearing carols whenever I go to buy laundry detergent or pasta sauce. And I want my white chocolate back! It seems to have been completely displaced on store shelves by xmas chocolate! Can we please go back to real life now?

Wherein the United States of America makes a simple task much harder than it needs to be

One of the stores I was shopping at today accidentally gave me a Cuban coin ("cinco centavos") in my change instead of a dime, so I decided to see how much it's worth.

First I googled 5 Cuban centavos in Canadian dollars, but Google didn't convert like it usually does.

So I thought that maybe Google only knows the basic units, not the centavos. So I googled Cuban currency to find out what it's called. It's called the Peso. That part was fine.

Then I googled 0.05 Cuban pesos in Canadian dollars. But again, Google didn't convert!

So I googled currency converter, and got, which I used to use before Google started converting automatically. But I couldn't find Cuban pesos!

So then I googled Cuban peso conversion and got Yahoo Finance, which does have Cuban pesos.

Turns out my little coin is worth $0.06 Canadian. So I was inadvertently cheated 4 cents, but I did get a new coin I've never seen out of the deal. But it shouldn't have taken that many steps for me to find out what it's worth! I should have been able to find out in my first Google! Unless someone has a better explanation, I'm going to blame the US embargo on Cuba in combination with American domination of the internet.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Invisibility, or politeness?

A Toronto Star reporter wears the same outfit for a month to see if anyone notices. Then she feels invisible because no one noticed.

Maybe they were just too polite to say anything?

I once had a prof who wore the same thing every time we saw her (we saw her twice a week.) It was occasionally mentioned behind her back ("You have Prof. X? Is she still wearing that purple thing?") but no one was so crude as to mention it to her face. In middle school or high school I'd expect someone to say something, but in adult life if I wore the same outfit two days in a row (which I'd only do with a laundry cycle in between) and someone commented, I'd just find that rather...not becoming a grownup. If I saw one of my co-workers wearing the same thing several days in a row, I wouldn't dare comment (and would probably graciously assume they like it so they bought several copies, or they're changing their undershirt or something).

Also, I think I'd find it rather comforting to learn that my wardrobe choices aren't subject to scrutiny.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The problem with Dear Prudence

Every since Emily Yoffe took over Slate's Dear Prudence column, I've felt the quality of the advice has declined. I think I've figured out why: When the letter-writer is in a situation that Prudie has been in before, but Prudie felt differently in that situation, she is completely incapable of empathizing with the letter-writer. When Prudie and the letter-writer feel the same way in the same situation, it's fine. When Prudie has no first-hand experience with the LW's situation, it's generally decent. But when Prudie felt differently in the same situation, she essentially tells the LW that they should be feeling differently.

The most prominent example I can think of is when a childfree LW asked for advice on dealing with people who nag her to have children. Prudie responded essentially by bingoing her. In a later article, she then confessed that she initially didn't want children, but had them because it was a dealbreaker for her husband. (I wonder how her children feel about that?) It seems she's completely unable to see beyond this and give her reader some practical advice on how to stop the bingoing.

Then today, someone wrote asking how to deal with her boyfriend's family, and Prudie said that her family is just like that and she loves it, so the reader should just sit back and enjoy it. She can't see beyond her own enjoyment of the situation and put herself in the shoes of someone who hates it.

So, Prudie, if you'd react differently in the reader's situation and can't put yourself in their shoes, don't use that letter. Use letters where you can identify with the reader. Don't tell the reader to feel differently, take what they do feel as a given, and give them some practical advice.

Highrises vs. street life

Public space advocates tend to say that residents of highrises are removed from street life. I just don't get that. Now it's possible I'm missing something - I've lived in a highrise in a neighbourhood that has street life, and I've lived in houses or lowrises in areas without street life - I've never experienced the lowrise + street life combination. But where I am now, in a highrise in a vibrant neighbourhood, I don't feel removed from street life. I experience it whenever I go out. Every day I walk down busy streets filled with pedestrians and bars and cafes and shops and people walking dogs and babies - everything that public space should be. The fact that my home is 14 storeys off the ground doesn't affect that.

Actually, living in a highrise helps me enjoy living in a busy neighbourhood. I feel safer higher up. I can sleep with an open window at little risk, I don't have all that street life parading right past my door, and if people leave litter or vandalize it doesn't affect me. The summertime last-call crowd is a distant buzz, not a mob of rabble milling about right outside my bedroom window. If I lived in a house, or a ground floor or second floor apartment, I might feel less safe, less welcoming of the busy street life. I might want to move to a quieter neighbourhood. But as it stands, I get to enjoy the safety and vibrancy of robust public space when I'm out in public, and I get to enjoy the safety and privacy of a certain degree of isolation when I'm in my private space.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Random thoughts for today

1. Yet another reason why it's a good thing I'm childfree: There was a little baby in a stroller. The baby was lying on her back, and several brightly-coloured toys were dangling above her. The baby reached up one chubby little arm and grabbed one of the toys with her impossibly-tiny hand, turning it back and forth as though she were inspecting it. The first thought that pops into my head: "Awwww, that's just like a real person!"

2. Whenever I see a floppy-eared dog, I find myself saying "Hello Mr. Floppy-Ears!" (Without even first checking whether the dog is, in fact, male!) The problem is that this might result in any dog I adopting ending up with the name Mr. Floppy-Ears, which is hardly a dignified name for a dog. Maybe I should get a floppy-eared bunny first, just to get the Mr. Floppy-Ears name out of my system. I think a bunny could handle such an undignified name more than a dog.

3. Stéphane Dion thinks his knapsack is just neato, with all the nifty pockets and everything (unfortunately I can't seem to google up a picture of said knapsack:
"Have I ever shown you what a great knapsack this is?" Dion asked Wilfert about a year ago. The two men were having a meeting and Dion simply had to extol the virtues of the carry-all, with all its neat pockets and compartments. "This is the best knapsack I've ever had."

I try very hard not to judge politicans on their superficial image, but there's just something terribly endearing about a political leader who's so dorky that I can identify with him. I don't much like those "Which party leader would you most like to have a beer with?" polls, but I think I'd actually enjoy sitting down and having a drink with this guy.

4. There's also a bit of a "Dion needs a makeover" thing going around, and one thing people keep citing is his glasses. But they're rimless! Isn't that supposed to be fashionable? I know it's not the very most latest fashion ever, but it's really quite recent. Does this mean they're on the way out? Should I rethink my plan of splurging on rimless when I get new glasses in January?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

FBORFW plot hole

General consensus is now that For Better or For Worse is pointing towards Elizabeth and Anthony ending up together. But there's a big question about that: why did Lynn Johnston introduce the Paul character if she wanted Liz and Anthony together? If Paul wasn't there, Liz could come back south and she and Anthony could end up together with hardly any contrived-ness (apart from the fact that Anthony was inexplicably married and had a kid and divorced all while he was allegedly still in love with Liz, which makes him look far less sympathetic. And Anthony's mustache which...the only time I've ever seen a mustache on a man his age is in the most wanted list.)

But with Paul around, the whole thing comes across as looking contrived. I've already blogged about how the set-up with Paul was completely contrived and borderline creepy. I've already blogged about how Liz coming back south doesn't look good on her. And now the recent strip where the parents dis Paul and try to push Liz towards Anthony just makes them look stupid. Anthony is there because he's a witness. Paul is not there because he lives over 1,000 km away, the trial has been stretching on for months, Paul is one of very few cops in a very small town so getting time off isn't that easy, and he just transferred there and has just applied to transfer again (because of Liz). Dissing him because he can't drop everything and come south makes the parents look clueless.

But if Paul didn't exist, Liz could be made lonely and that could be spun as a compelling excuse to come back south (rather than Paul being a compelling excuse to stay up north.) Anthony's presence could be spun into romance without making Liz into a cheater (or making Paul cheat on her). The parents wouldn't have to look totally clueless. All the characters would get to be far more sympathetic than they are now - now they look thoroughly unsympathetic.

I'm hoping Lynn Johnston will still surprise us and end the strip in a way I totally can't see coming. It would be a shame to see such a venerable comic strip end with all the characters looking like idiots.

I did something cool

I just realized that I did something cool a few days ago. I was attending a presentation by a senior executive in the organization for which I work. As he was talking, I noticed something was missing from a particular point that he made, so I raised my hand, spoke up, and contributed something fruitful to the discussion. I did this twice, without hesitation, and it didn't even occur to me that this was anything special until just now, several days later, when I remembered that one of my much more senior colleagues was nervous and stuttering when doing the same thing.

An enormous part of the credit goes to my employer for creating an environment in which my contributions feel welcome, but still, I couldn't do this three years ago!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Poison Control

Why isn't Poison Control part of 911? When you have to call Poison Control it's an emergency, but it's this random 7/10 digit number that no one knows offhand.

Why would anyone buy an 8 gig iPod?

The 8 gig iPod Nano costs the same as the 30 gig iPod video. So why would anyone buy the 8 gig? I want a red one and I was happy to see it's now available in 8 gigs because 4 might be too small for me, but a pretty pretty colour and $10 to AIDS isn't enough to make me buy 22 fewer gigs for the same price!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Describing accents

Today, I found myself describing someone's accent as being "like cut glass," because that's the expression that first came to mind when I heard her accent. Then I realized that I don't actually know what the expression means. I've heard it before, as applied to accents, but I couldn't tell you what kind of accent it was being applied to. It occurred to me today when hearing someone speak, but I have no idea whether or not my interpretation of the expression is the same as the common meaning. It's all very intangible. I don't even know what cut glass has to do with the particular accent (like the sound of cutting glass? like the appearance of cut glass? like the sound of cut glass stemware tinkling against each other?), and yet the simile came to mind unbidden. I know what "plummy" means in describing accents, but I have no idea what that actually has to do with plums.

Analogy for monogamy

Imagine you're craving coffee. A new coffee shop just opened up right across the street, so you decide to give it a try. The coffee is exactly what you were craving. It completely meets your needs. You've never had coffee that so perfectly met your coffee needs. It's fresh, it's aromatic, it doesn't have any yucky bitterness to it, it's everything coffee should be and nothing coffee shouldn't be. In fact, you never knew that coffee could be this good. So the next time you're craving coffee, you back to the same coffee shop again. And once again it meets your needs perfectly, so you keep going back again and again.

Now sometimes your tastes vary a bit, but it turns out this coffee can meet your needs even when your tastes vary. When you want something a bit richer, it meets your needs if you add cream instead of milk. If you don't want caffeine, the decaf is perfect. If it's hot out, the iced coffee is exactly what you're craving. Every time you go to the coffee shop to get something you're craving, their products fulfill your craving completely, and you've never found another coffee anywhere that fulfills your cravings nearly as well.

After this goes on for a while, it would simply no longer make sense to try new coffee shops, now would it? You wouldn't feel that it's dull or boring to keep going to the same coffee shop, because their coffee is so unbelievably good compared to any other coffee you've tasted or even smelled. In fact, you'd feel it's a privilege to have such perfect coffee right across the street, and you'd be thankful every day that they're right there.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"A complete list of things I have seen and not seen is available on my blog"

Seen on Yonge St.: two small white puppies, possibly Bichone Frises, possibly Lhasa Apsos, trying to assert dominance over each other.

Seen on the cover of Cosmo: "The Sexiest Things To Do After Sex" Wassa matter? Sex not sexy enough for you?

Seen in line at the store: Teenage boy says "She's hot!" (with as much enthusiasm as one would expect from a teenage boy). His mother says "Yes, she is" (with more enthusiasm than one would expect from a mother). Not seen: who exactly they were talking about.

Seen in the newspaper: an ad for a TV movie called "Candles on Bay Street". The thing is, in Toronto, Bay St. is the financial district. So to me it sounds as odd as "Candles on Wall Street".

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Open Letters

Dear blind gentleman in the Eglinton station tunnels around 3:50 pm:

I apologize for not walking you to the station myself when you asked me directions. I'm afraid I was too worried about how to explain the directions without any pointing, so it didn't occur to me to walk you there myself until I was already down on the platform. I'm really sorry, and I hope you found your way okay.

Dear CNIB:

You know those commercials you have, telling us that many of your clients have some sight? I really wish you'd elaborate. What am I supposed to do with this information? How am I supposed to change my behaviour? What action do you expect on my part?

Dear Biore:

Okay, so you're trying to tell me that your products will give me flawless skin. So why use a black and white picture? Everyone looks flawless in black and white. Show me a colour photo! Yes, I know you still have Photoshop so you can make the non-flawless look flawless even in colour. That's precisely why the black and white makes me suspicious. If a professional model + your product + lighting + makeup + photoshop produce flawless skin in colour, why should I buy your product?

Best dry-cleaner ever!

I highly recommend Vic-Tone Cleaners in North York. They're at 4866 Yonge St., which is a block north of Yonge & Sheppard (southwest corner of Yonge & Elmhurst).

I had a horrible stain on a new blouse. I already tried to get it out at home, and it wouldn't budge - if anything I'd made the problem worse. My research showed this type of stain may well never come out, so I was very upset. I'd only worn the blouse twice, it was a very flattering cut and colour, and the store I'd bought it from didn't have any more in my size. This was very problematic because the stain demoted the blouse from first choice to last-resort-with-a-jacket. So I decided it's time to shell out for a professional job.

So I took it to Vic-Tone on a purely random guess. They looked at the stain and said they weren't sure whether they could get it out, but they'd try and there would be no charge if they didn't succeed! And then they managed to get the stain out!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

High-heeled sensitivity training (for men)

Inspired by the guy in Sheppard station yelling at his female companion for descending the stairs so slowly.

The Physics:

In a high-heeled shoe, the wearer's body weight is shifted forwards. In the vast majority of situations, this isn't a problem, and the wearer can walk normally or with a slightly shortened stride. However, when descending stairs or any sort of slope, the change in balance becomes particularly apparent. Stand on a stair (a low stair! and hold onto the railing!) and lean forwards. See how you're suddenly at greater risk of falling? If someone wearing heels walks down the stairs at a normal pace, she will fall. I know this from first-hand experience.

The Experiment:

Take off your shoes if you're wearing any. First, walk around the room a bit, at your normal walking-down-the-street pace, just to remind yourself of what that pace feels like. Next, stand up on your toes, lifting your heels as far off the ground as possible. Now walk around the room at the same pace. See how your stride is shortened, but you can still maintain a decent pace?

Next, go to the nearest staircase. If you have to wear shoes to do this, make sure you pick a pair with a flexible enough sole to let you stand on your tiptoes. First, walk down a few steps at a normal walking-in-public speed, just to get a sense of what you're working with normally. Then go back to the top of the stairs, and stand on your toes. Make sure you hold the railing! Before you descent on your toes, I want you to put one foot down on the stair below you, with your toes at the very front of the tread (i.e. the horizontal part of the stairs). Why? Because our instincts tell us to put our toes in the centre of the tread when descending stairs standing on our toes, but you can't do this in heels because the heels themselves would be in the way. So put your toe at the very front of the tread, and make sure your heel is lifted in a way that it doesn't touch the riser of the stair above it. Got that foot position down? Then grab the railing and walk down the stairs on your toes, with your feet in that position. Try to go as fast as you can. See how precarious it is?

What you can do to help:

"Okay," you're saying, "now I understand why descending stairs in heels is problematic. So how can I, as the chivalrous gentleman I am, help my lady friend through this ordeal?"

First of all, understand that stairs are slower and don't nag when she slows down. If she falls, that will just slow you both down even more, as well as getting in more people's way. If there is a choice, opt for an escalator or elevator if your lady friend is wearing higher heels than she usually wears.

If you want to be actively chivalrous, you can offer her your arm or you can walk in front of her. Offering your arm is appropriate only in places where you can walk two abreast without getting in anyone's way. It is, by far, the better option if the stairs have no railing for some reason. However, in crowded places where walking two abreast is a problem, the best thing you can do is walk in front of her, so you can catch her, break her fall, or help her if she does fall. Walking in front of her is also particularly helpful in places like subway stations, if you find yourself moving against a large sea of pedestrian traffic. That way, you're making a path for her lady friend, so all she has to worry about is staying on her feet. Do NOT "ladies first" down the stairs if there's a huge wave of people coming up the stairs.


I don't feel educated. By most standards I am, by a few standards I'm not. I've had job interviewers who didn't give me jobs tell me I have a lot of education. (Job interviewers who did give me jobs never commented on it.) But internally? I don't feel anything special. Yes, I've spent most of my life in a classroom, but that would have happened even if I had the minimum education legally permissible. My mental library is what it is.

I don't feel smart either. I've been told I am. (I've also been told I'm not.) The requisite IQ test and years of good grades sit in a dusty old school file somewhere. But I don't feel it. My brain often (but not always) does what I need it to do, but that doesn't feel particularly special or anything - most of what I need my brain to do is fairly mindless.

I wonder if anyone feels educated or smart? I wonder if people who are not educated or smart can feel it? I wonder if the smarter you are, the more your brain does what it needs to do, or if it somehow works differently?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


For me, the slang meaning of the word sick has always been "disgusting".

In current adolescent parlance, the meaning of the word sick is something along the lines of "awesome"

About 80% of the time, this is fine. I'm familiar with the new meaning, even though it isn't part of my active vocabulary, and you can usually tell by context.

The problem is those few times when you can't tell by context. This happens especially often on the internet, particularly when the word is being used by someone a bit younger than me, who would likely have both meanings in their active vocabulary. (I don't know whether or not Kids Today use sick to mean disgusting, but I doubt someone 3-5 years younger than me would be unfamiliar with the that meaning.) If someone says, without elaboration, in response to something like a dirty joke "OMG, that's SICK!" it could really go either way.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Things I wish I could say without sounding all judgeosaurus

The vast majority of human discourse occurred before I got here, so the vast majority of words and expressions have taken on certain connotations beyond their strict denotations, and I wasn't consulted on any of it.

This is a problem, because sometimes I want to say something perfectly harmless and innocuous, for completely benign reasons, but when I put together the simplest, most plain-language combination of words that denotes my intended message, it takes on connotations that I don't mean, because of what people did with the language generations before I came along.

For example:

"That's not funny" Sometimes something just...isn't funny. It simply doesn't have any humour value. Like a Marmaduke cartoon. Sometimes context compels me to say that I don't think something is funny. The problem is when you say "That's not funny," it implies that you were offended, that you think an intended joke crossed the line into cruel or sick or hateful. It's very difficult to simply say that something isn't funny without these further connotations. I encountered this dilemma today, when Scott Adams posted a Dilbert cartoon that he had decided not to run. A lot of the commenters found it funny. I didn't find it funny. But if I posted "That's not funny," people would think I found it offensive. My point wasn't that I found it offensive - I didn't think that far. My point was simply that there's insufficient humour, so it was a good decision to pull the cartoon. But I just can't work out how to say that in a forum full of strangers without implying that I found it offensive. Even if I said "I wasn't offended, but it's just not funny," it would sound like I was offended but I'm just saying I'm not so they don't dismiss my opinion as a prude.

"What was she wearing?" Sometimes, when a crime occurs, I want to know the circumstances. What was the victim wearing? Was it a crowded street or was there no one around? What kind of locks were on the door? I'd like to know these things so I can make better-informed decisions about my own safety. However, long before I entered into discourse, people used comments like this to blame the victim, and now they are inappropriate because the "blame the victim" connotation was too strong. But I don't want to blame the victim, I just want to use the clues available to assess the perp's mentality. For example, the more information I learned about Paul Bernardo, the more I was able to accurately judge that I was in fact at risk. He was specifically after my demographic, so I was able to use that information to be wary of strangers without worrying about being rude. (And, because it was so widely publicized, well-intentioned strangers would probably understand why I was being so standoffish.) Conversely, the more information I learned about the Toronto shootings in the past couple of years, the more certain I became that I'm at low risk of being shot, since I'm not involved in or near gang or drug activity. So if there's, say, a perverted groper man stalking the subway, I'd be interested in knowing what the victims were wearing. Not because I want to blame them, but because I want to make informed decisions about my own wardrobe and behaviour. If perverted groper man is going after women wearing skirts and heels, then I'm okay today. If he's going after women wearing trousers and boots, maybe I'll sit near the guard, or head for the subway at the same time as a more-intimidating co-worker, or ask mi cielito to go a bit out of his way and escort me home instead of saying "I'll be fine." But there's no way to ask for that information without sounding like you're making unpleasant insinuations.

I had a third example, but I can't seem to remember it now. I'll edit later if it comes to me.

Monday, November 20, 2006

How many times do I have to go over this?

Once again, they're talking about reinstating the draft as an anti-war measure, because lawmakers wouldn't want their children to be sent to war.

Okay people, pay close attention this time, because I'm getting tired of going over it again and again:

The problem with this plan is that it completely neglects the fact that the potential draftees are human beings in their own right. They aren't their parents' chattels that you can threaten to damage or destroy to coerce or threaten the parents, they are human beings in their own right, with their own lives to live, and with little or no influence over their parents' politics.

Do people really not understand this? How old do you have to be before you lose the ability to understand that people's kids are separate human beings with their own thoughts and feelings and human rights?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Powerful software

I've become very wary of the adjective "powerful" when used to describe software. It seems the more the word "powerful" is used, the harder a time I have convincing the software to do something simple without extensive RTMFing. I can appreciate that some software is made to do far more complicated things than I'll ever need to do, but can't they make the very simplest functions a wee bit intuitive?

Excuse me, ma'am, but how exactly do you cover your greys?

Since before I even started going grey, I've wanted to somehow colour my grey hairs some random third colour, like bright crayon red, while not affecting the natural colour of the hair that hasn't gone grey yet. Today on the subway I saw a lady who had achieved that very effect. It was a crowded train and I was standing right above her, so I had a chance to inspect the top of her head with impunity. Most of her hair was naturally black and did not appear to have been coloured at all, but about a dozen individual hairs were this beautiful shade of copper. When I visually followed the path of the copper hairs up to the roots, I noticed that they suddenly became silver about half an inch from the scalp. Clearly some kind of artificial colour applied to the grey hairs only - exactly what I've always wanted!

I only wish there was some way to politely ask a stranger on the subway, "Excuse me, ma'am, but how exactly do you cover your greys?"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How For Better or For Worse could have been much improved

Last spring, For Better or For Worse had Elizabeth suddenly wanting to move back down south. I didn't like this and thought it was out of character. Then she coerced Paul into applying for a transfer south, AFTER he's already applied for a transfer to be near her in Mtigwaki, which really made the her character look flighty and unsympathetic. Then, once she arrived, she moved back in with her parents, which, again, didn't look good on the character.

So now she's been back in 905 for a few months, but things aren't going as planned. Her grandfather has had a stroke, she isn't teaching much because she's been subpoenaed as a witness for Howard's trial, she's living with her parents, and she's missing Paul.

But if the plot required her to be in 905 and/or living with her parents and/or away from Paul, either the subpoena or the stroke could have done that. She could have come for the subpoena and stayed for the stroke, and it wouldn't have reflected poorly on her character at all. She wouldn't have looked flighty and inconsiderate of Paul's feelings because she would have had no choice in responding to the subpoena. It wouldn't have seemed immature and uncharacteristic to have her staying with her parents, because she was south only for an indefinite temporary period of time. If their separation is intended to end her relationship with Paul, this could still have happened if she had come south because of a subpoena rather than because of a sudden whim. If Paul is intended to eventually come south, he could still do that - but of his own accord, not because he was coerced by Flighty!Liz. If Elizabeth is intended to eventually go back up north, she could do that once the trial is over and her grandfather's health is stabilized, instead of appearing flighty.

Just eliminate Elizabeth's sudden desire to move back south, and you could tell the exact same story, but with a more sympathetic character.

Surreal moment of the day

I was sitting in the subway, just behind the front door of the front car, engrossed in my book as usual, when the train stopped in the middle of a tunnel. I fretted about being late for work for a microsecond, but my fascinating book pushed that thought aside. Then I noticed the door next to me was opening. "Oh, are we in a station? I thought we were in a tunnel!" I look up to see we are in a tunnel, and a group of men in hard hats and reflective vests is climbing into the train. One of them closes the doors using some tool, they thank the driver, and off we go.

I've never seen that before!

Income splitting

What surprises me most about income splitting is that it occurs to people in the first place. True, I currently have a one-person household, but I've been thinking in terms of an eventual marriage for almost the entire 21st century, and it never once occurred to me that it's unfair to tax each income the usual way. In fact, if you asked me in a vacuum to name what's unfair in the way couples are taxed as compared with singles, I'd most likely come up with the idea that singles should get a tax break, since they have more living expenses per potential earner!

If I were married and earning enough money to support two people single-handedly, I would feel twice lucky. Just as I do now, I would be rejoicing every day that I have a bit more money than strictly necessary, and I would also be rejoicing every day that I get to be married to mi cielito. It would simply never occur to me to feel cheated or put out or discriminated against. And yet, every long-married couple I know thinks it's an egregious injustice that each earner is taxed at their own marginal tax rate.

I wonder how many years a couple has to be together before they stop rejoicing and start feeling cheated?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

To keep in mind when talking about municipal voter turnout

On paper, using the numbers that everyone uses to calculate voter turnout, my own immediate family looks like it has 50% voter turnout. In reality, we have 100% voter turnout. That's because my sister and I have both moved out of our parents' house and now live in other municipalities, but still appear on their voter registration card. We have not yet figured out how to get us off their voter card.

On paper, we look like two responsible parent types, and two Kids Today who are too damn lazy and apathetic to bother to vote. In reality, we are four enfranchised adults who have fulfilled their civic duty after gaining the self-sufficiency to establish their own households.

The numbers don't tell the whole truth.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Accidental by Ali Smith

The basic premise is quite intriguing. A girl shows up in a family's vacation house. Everyone assumes that she's there with another member of the family, so she just kind of hangs around and affects them all. I quite enjoyed that premise, but I didn't find the book itself too compelling. I didn't care that much about the main family, and if, at any point in my reading, you had taken the book away from me and told me that I could never find out what happened next, I wouldn't have cared.

Until like six pages before the very end of this book, I was irritated by two unresolved questions. Then one of them was suddenly and cleverly addressed. It wasn't answered or resolved, but it was addressed and in a way that made me go "Cool!" The other was left unresolved though, which bothered me.

What's interesting about this book is it's set just a couple of years ago - in 2003, I think. There are passing references to current events, which I recognize, but I don't know whether people will recognize them in 10 years. (For example, a description of the Abu Graib photos, mentioned in passing as being on a newspaper page without any explicit identifiers.) I guess it's a risk on the part of the author, but it will be interesting to see whether these things hold up.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Election results

The three races that I voted in have been called. The incumbent won for city councillor by a vast, vast margin, which surprises and perplexes me. One thing about the incumbent that always bothered me was his opposition to density and the trappings of density. That position simply doesn't make sense here in this neighbourhood, because it's a very dense neighbourhood - right in the geographical centre of Toronto. And that's why I chose it - because I enjoy the convenience and amenities that can only be the result of density. The high-rises have been here for 30 years, so you'd think that everyone who opposes density would have moved out by now, and all the residents would be, like me, specifically seeking density.

So then this challenger comes up who supports intelligent development and other trappings of density, as well as many other perfectly sensible positions. This is a breath of fresh air to me - I'm certainly not about giving corporations free reign, but if any neighbourhood is prime for further development it's this one. More housing = increased supply = slows down the rise of local housing costs, enabling everyone who lives here to continue living here. More commercial = more amenities for us. I was very glad to have a viable challenger, and was looking forward to a good race.

But the incumbent won by a longshot. Is that because that's the way people around here feel, or is that because the challenger had trouble getting the word out? I'd be very surprised if such a majority of the riding was so strongly opposed to density. As I mentioned above, the density has been here for decades, and we're all benefitting from it. Is this riding really full of assholes who are sitting there enjoying the fruits of density while trying to prevent anyone else from enjoying it? Or is it just that the challenger didn't get the word out? The challenger did have a website (there was another challenger who didn't have a website or answer any media requests, so he doesn't count), but I only got one flyer, and that was from the incumbent. The flyer was a very well-targeted outline of his position on tenant issues (the challenger had nothing about tenant issues on his website), so I could see how that might sway people in this tenant-heavy neighbourhood, but it also seems to me like the very people who would be swayed by that would support density. So maybe people just weren't getting the challenger's message because he didn't manage to actively reach us. I just hope it's because of poor targeting and the fact that many people don't actively seek out their candidates' positions so they take what information arrives on their doorstep. I'd hate to think that those hundreds of people whose apartment windows I can see out of my 14th storey window are sitting there saying "High-density? Nooooo, we don't want that! It would ruin the character of the neighbourhood!"

Aside: Hazel McCallion has been mayor for 28 years, and has just been elected for another 3 or 4 years. Thirty-plus years. That's an entire career. She's has one job for an entire career. I don't think that happenes to anyone anymore. It does make me wonder how in touch with reality she can be. She's held the same elected office for an entire career's-worth of time. How could she possibly identify with someone who has been or lives in fear of being downsized?

Weird Salon letters

1. First, someone wrote to Cary Tennis saying that her friend's boyfriend didn't want her to go on the bus in going-out clothes. What I found weird about the letters is how many people seem to think that buses are So Very Very Dangerous. That's simply not my experience. I mean, I'm not going to count my money or change my shirt on a bus, but I feel quite safe. There are always multiple groups of people around, there's the driver, you're on camera at all times, it's well-lit - it's simply no more of a problem than any other element of public life. The only potential area of concern is waiting for the bus, which I did find sometimes iffy in my pre-Toronto life. But these people are talking about being on a bus, and that's not nearly as much of a problem as the commenters make it out to be.

2. Then there's this guy who wants permission to hit on women who already have boyfriends. What I find odd about the letters is that there are so many more men commenting on what women do/don't want than women commenting on what they'd want in that situation. There were even a couple of men who commented that all women are up for grabs until they're married, despite the fact that I and a couple of other women had previously posted that we specifically do NOT want to be pursued when we're in a relationship. Frankly, I take offence. It's pretty damn cocky for random third-party to presume to overrule my declarative statement about my personal standards! Ladies, if you ever meet one of these guys in real life, please go Lysistrata on his ass!


Well, no TDSB students took me up on my offer, so I voted in accordance with my own judgement. This shouldn't be taken as indicative of the apathy of Kids Today, but rather as indicative of the fact that I'm an unknown blogger with no high school or elementary school students in my readership. Next election, someone should really come up with a way to poll students on their trustee preferences though, just so people can use it to inform their voting if they wish.

But on to the mystery: I wasn't on the voters' list! This is really weird, because I voted in the 2003 Toronto municipal election, and I still live at the same address now! I didn't get one of those "confirm that you're on the voters' list" letters, but I assumed that's because I haven't moved. Then I didn't get a voter registration card, but I figured it got lost or something. I have no idea how I got off the list! Although, now that I think about it, I haven't gotten one of those MPAC forms in quite a long time. And apparently I'm still on the list at my parents' address in my hometown, although I don't think the two are connected. That's very odd though, since I've never voted in a municipal election at my parents' address (I moved away shortly before the first municipal election in which I was eligible to vote).

In any case, it turned out just fine. I filled out a form, showed the nice lady my driver's licence, and was given a ballot. I was a wee bit surprised by the lack of security - I only had to show one form of ID, didn't have to prove my citizenship, and simply verbally told her which school board I support. If I wasn't a citizen, I could have voted anyway. If I had done enough research to do so, I could have sabotaged one of the school boards I don't support. But maybe people are so generally apathetic about municipal politics that no one cares enough to sabotage them? Anyway, I would have been far more pissed if I couldn't have voted than because it was so easy to vote.

ETA: I didn't see any doggies while voting today, which usually portends an unfavourable election. However, I didn't do my good-luck ritual either, so I don't know how that will affect things.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New record?

I think the recruitment video in today's Simpsons wins for the greatest density of pop culture references per minute.

Behind the counter

Today I purchased a behind-the-counter product at a pharmacy. I walked up to the counter, asked for the product, and the pharmacist handed it to me. That's it. Makes me wonder what the point of keeping it behind the counter is. I know it's behind the counter for pharmaceutical reasons, not because it's commonly stolen like razor blades are, but I was not asked any questions or given any advice. (Unless the pharmacist could tell just by looking at me/talking to me/being in my presence that I needed the product in question, which would have been terribly embarrasing.)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wherein Dear Ellie misses the obvious answer

In re: the first letter, where the lady's husband insists on switching sides of the bed when his neck hurts:

Why not just switch sides permanently?

I've decided what to do about the petition

I've decided that I'm not going to sign the petition, but I am going to email my MP and the Prime Minister a reworked version of my post below, outlining what I think would and would not be an appropriate use of the state funeral. Signing the petition would have been too supportive - I could have left a small comment, but I don't know if it would be taken into considerations. Not signing wouldn't have been interpreted as either outright opposition, or simply my not having seen the petition (aside: petitions in general should keep a tally of people who had a chance to sign but chose not to do so). An email outside the aegis of the petition seems to be the best way to tell the powers that be about the nuances of my opinion. I would encourage anyone else with a nuanced opinion to do the same thing.

Coming up sometime later this weekend: how to avoid making Remembrance Day into a meaningless cliché. Then on to other topics, I promise.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Petition for a state funeral for the last surviving WWI veteran

From James Bow, I just learned that there's a petition to give a state funeral to the last surviving WWI veteran.

My first thought is that this is a really cool idea. My second thought was that there's a lot of potential to do this poorly. If it is done in a way that makes it not for just this one guy but symbolic of everyone, military and civilian who died in and suffered through WWI, that emphasizes the utter senselessness and tragedy of WWI, and the terrible cost of WWI and all wars in general, I think a state funeral is a brilliant idea. But if it's all empty pomp, mindlessly making the deceased (and perhaps his fellow veterans) out to be heroes, making the military look glamourous and sexy, the sort of thing that could be remixed into a recruiting ad, I don't think that's appropriate.

While the soldier should, of course, be buried with all appropriate dignity, the public's mind also needs to be on trenches full of mud and shit and gangrene and death, rats and roaches and amputated limbs, the foolishness and shortsightedness of nations stuck in the 19th century getting the world into this mess, the foolishness and ignorance of men who are really boys charging off like it's some great adventure, hundreds even thousands of men dying to gain a few metres of ground, all to be fought all over again in a few short decades. This would be an appropriate use for a state funeral.

However, if it's just about clean and pressed uniforms, flags and honour guards, and a sepia photograph of a dashing young man off to be a hero, that's highly inappropriate, and not something I will sign a petition for.

Holocaust memorials can honour the dead appropriately while emphasizing the horror; the survivors leave feeling the dead have been properly honoured, the general public leaves feeling "never again." This is what our war memorials should be doing, this is what our Remembrance Day ceremonies should be doing, and this is what the state funeral for the last veteran should do.

I haven't decided yet whether or not I will sign the petition. I will need to reflect on it some more, and do some research into what a state funeral involves. While I don't begrudge the state funeral in any case - I certainly wouldn't protest if they decided to do it - I'm not yet sure if I'm comfortable actively demanding it. But I think everyone should have a fair chance to sign the petition or not, which is why I'm posting the link here with my thoughts on the matter. Do whatever you think is right.

On being anti-war

On the radio this morning, they were discussing at length a poll on how people feel about Canadian troops being in Afghanistan.

I listened as I bustled about my morning routine and mulled things over, and I kept coming back to one thought:

In general, being anti-war is surprisingly unpopular. I hold a lot of unpopular and/or uncommon opinions, and I think of all the opinions I hold, my pacifism is the one I get the most shit for. It sounds strange, but based on my experiences with these things, if you stick me in a randomly-selected group of people I'm more likely to offend by saying "What if they had a war and nobody came?" than by anything else it might occur to me to say. I've also noticed that whenever someone expresses general or specific anti-war sentiments in public, they seem to qualify them more than with most other statements, like people need more reassurance that this doesn't mean the speaker wants your brother in the military to die or for the world to be dominated by nazis or something. Look at the uproar surrounding white poppies - apparently it's controversial to express pacifist sentiments for Remembrance Day of all things!

So with all this in mind, I keep finding myself wondering how honestly people answered this poll. Maybe they did answer honestly - I'd assume that pollsters aren't in the habit of dissing pollees opinions. Or maybe they answered less anti-war than they feel, out of the habit of toning down their anti-war sentiments. Or maybe they were more anti-war than usual, to compensate for the fact that they usually have to tone things down in public (although I don't know if people would think of this on their feet while answering a poll.)

It doesn't usually occur to me so strongly that a poll may be inaccurate, but in this case it really struck me.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Dan Savage's attempt to redefine the word santorum seems to have worked on me. I didn't pay much attention to it the first time around, but just now I had the TV on to US election results while I puttered about doing other things, and whenever the word "Santorum" was uttered I'd sort of do a double take. "WHAT are they talking about????...Oh yeah, it's a person's name."

Weird bumpersticker combination

Seen on a car:

1. a bumpersticker saying "God Bless America
2. a bumpersticker saying "CNN Lies"
3. Ontario plates

Based on that information, I can't tell what they think CNN is lying about.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Missed a spot!

A while back, I started using a Schick Quattro, because I could not longer find blades for my previous razor (Gilette Sensor Excel), probably because I'd been using it for like 10 years.

Ever since I switched to the Quattro, I've been missing spots, and always the same spots. The inside edge of the armpit, the very bottom of my ankle, the bit between the sticky-outy part of the ankle bone and the Achilles tendon - I keep finding these small patches of centimetre-long hair in areas that I thought I was shaving every two days.

A side-by-side comparison shows that the Quattro blade is the same width as the Sensor Excel blade, and the handle is longer so that doesn't explain why I keep missing the bottoms of my ankles. It's like my shaving autopilot needs to be recalibrated for the new razor or something. At any rate, I hope I get it sorted out by summer.

Grey hair science

There was a small knot in a lock of my hair. This lock of hair included a couple of greys, but consisted mostly of dark hair. After I got it untangled, the dark hairs returned to their normal straight condition, but the greys remained strangely bent, as though they had been though a bizarro curling iron.

Maybe this is why white-haired little old ladies always have their hair curled. Maybe grey hairs are far less likely to fall back into their natural shape, so old ladies set their hair so they can control its shape, rather than leaving it to chance and having every hair be a different shape.

If this is the case, when I've gone completely grey, I'm going to put my hair in GIANT curls on top of my head, like Ginger from Gilligan's Island.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Harry's Firebolt

In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry's Nimbus is broken by the Whomping Willow, and Sirius replaces it with a Firebolt, which is The Very Best Broom Ever In Existence.

So why does Harry need to have The Very Best Broom Ever In Existence? He's a teenager, and he's been clearly established as an Exceptional Flier. The fact that he's an Exceptional Flier almost negates the need for him to have The Very Best Broom Ever In Existence - he should be able to do just fine on any decent broom.

And what has the Firebolt done for Harry anyway? Getting past the dragon in the Triwizard Tournament, flying from Privet Drive to Grimmauld Place in OOTP, and a bit of Quidditch.

In the dragon scene, the emphasis was very much on Harry's flying skills. It wasn't even mentioned that Harry had The Very Best Broom Ever In Existence - he succeeded because he's an Exceptional Flier. Goblet of Fire seems to be a very random, disjointed book, and I think the reason for this is that it was setting up a number of future plot threads. For example, Harry's training for the maze task is what gave him the expertise to lead the DA, and ultimately to defeat the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries. The book also introduced Fleur Delacour, who is all teed up to become a character in her own right, and Viktor Krum, whose presence set up all the relationship drama in HBP. So I don't think the dragon was an end in and of itself. I think it was more intended to emphasize the point the Harry is an Exceptional Flier.

The flight to Grimmauld Place is unexceptional. No emphasis is made on how Harry's flying skills or the quality of his broom came in particularly handy. He was competent and able to keep up with the adults, but there was nothing really difficult to it - it was just getting from Point A to Point B. Worst case, it's meaningless. Best case, it's intended to show that Harry can keep up with adults in standard flying for transportation purposes.

Quidditch is the only situation where the fact that Harry has The Very Best Broom Ever In Existence is emphasized, and it is emphasized along with the fact that Harry is an Exceptional Flyer. However, I don't think Quidditch has much significance in the larger plot. I read it as originally intended to increase Harry's sense of belonging in the wizarding world (since he's exceptionally good at Quidditch but not particularly good at anything in the Muggle world), and in later books it was intended to enable various interpersonal relationship plot points. J.K. Rowling has said that she wrote her last Quidditch scene in HBP, so I don't think it has any significance in the overall Harry vs. Voldemort plot, with the possible exception of establishing that Harry is an Exceptional Flier flying The Very Best Broom Ever In Existence.

So far, the Firebolt hasn't proven particularly necessary. With the possible exception of one or two Quidditch victories, a Nimbus would have done just fine. But Harry's Nimbus was gratuitously destroyed and replaced with a Firebolt for no yet-apparent reason. I think some seriously hardcore flying is going to be involved in Harry's defeat of Voldemort.