Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fun fact: if you initiate a court case, you instantly become googleable

I cannot wait until Doug Anglin tries to get a job, since it is widely-disseminated public knowledge (not to mention the entire first page of google results) that he considers being expected to follow rules, sit down, and do his work grounds for a lawsuit.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Yes, I bought it just for the pilates ball

The Globe and Mail's Leah McLaren seems to have a certain disdain for people who would buy Special K for the pilates ball.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I did just that. Here's why:

I was in the market for a pilates ball already. They are often used in the exercise program I (try to) follow. I've tried to improvise with various household items, but they weren't quite comfortable to grip for such a long time - it would hurt my forearms in a bad way. However, all the balls I found available commercially either came in a set of different-sized balls, or came with a DVD. I didn't much fancy the idea of spending the extra money just to have extra junk cluttering up my home - all I wanted was one ball! Then the Special K offer came along, so for just a couple of bucks I got a ball, plus a box of cereal (which I don't eat regularly, but like to keep around the house as a staple). If that makes me a prole or a lemming or a slave to marketing or whatever, so be it.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Poor writing

I find poor writing - the kind that's the result of undereducation - very difficult to read. I find it particularly difficult when the writer uses punctuation incorrectly or uses no punctuation in a place where punctuation is necessary. These punctuation errors don't just make it difficult, they often impede meaning.

I wonder if these grammatical errors are equally difficult to read for other undereducated people - people whose writing skills (or lack thereof) are at about the same level as those of the writer of the ungrammatical text.

For example, in a book I'm reading about WWI, they included a snippet of a letter from an uneducated enlisted man. He used practially no punctuation, and I found it very difficult to understand. But did his family back home, who presumably aren't much more educated than he is, find it easier to read than I did because they don't write much better.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

On TTC crowding

I commute northbound in the morning and southbound in the evening. My entire commute takes place north of Bloor. My morning commute is at the tail end of rush hour. I have to stand maybe 25% of the time, maybe less.

I don't feel overcrowded, but that does not negate the fact that other people in other places do. So it occurred to me: what if they short-turned subways? That would make my commute a little less pleasant, but we've got plenty of capacity up here, heading upstream. So what if, in the morning, every second or third northbound train short-turned at Bloor or Eglinton instead of heading all the way up to Finch. I know they did this in the past and then stopped, so perhaps there's a very good reason why, but it seems to me like something that would work.

Friday, January 27, 2006

If I could make the world understand one thing about introversion...

Yes, as an introvert, I do enjoy being alone. I recharge when alone, I'm at peace when alone. However, when I am with another person, it does not make it more comfortable to just sit there in silence. Just sitting there alone in silence does not give me the recharge that being alone does. It often feels awkward if we're just there without anything specific to do - just like it does for extroverts - so I'd much rather have a pleasant conversation to pass the time. Yes, there can be a comfortable silence in an extremely close relationship (like marriage-close, or possibly marriage-potential-were-it-not-for-incompatible-gender/sexual orientation-combination-close), and yes, I feel no awkwardness about silently riding the elevator or the bus instead of chit-chatting with strangers. But with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, classmates, etc. it is not in any way helpful or enjoyable to just sit there in silence. Use your extrovert skills to help guide me through a pleasant conversation instead, and I'll recharge later when I get home.

A word about commenting

Under the comment box, there are three options: Blogger login, Other, and Anonymous. If you don't have a Blogger login or don't want to comment under your usual screenname, click on Other instead of Anonymous. Then you can fill in the Name blank with the name of your choice. Please be consistent about the name you use - it's rather annoying when there are multiple Anonymouses. :)

Being compassionate means not embarrassing your children

The following is a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star from one Robert Campbell. I can't seem to find it online, but it's on page A21 of today's paper, in the very bottom left hand corner.

Who is the real Stephen Harper? the man who, during the campaign, was photographed cuddling babies or the man, now elected, who walked his children to school and shook their hands instead of giving them a kiss on the cheek? So much for a compassionate Canada.

Three things occurred to me upon reading this:

1. When I was Mr. Harper's children's age (I believe they're 7 and 9), I did not like it when my father kissed me. I do not know whether the Harper kids feel the same way, but it is certainly possible they do. If they do not want their father to kiss them, then he's doing the compassionate thing by not kissing them.

2. Even if they don't mind being kissed, it's possible that being kissed by one's father is the sort of thing that would get them tormented by their classmates, especially in the case of the 9-year-old boy. This was certainly the case when I was in elementarly school. If this is the case in their elementary school, then Mr. Harper is doing the compassionate thing by not kissing them when there are photographers around, thus avoiding having a photograph of the kids in a torment-worthy situation appear in all the major newspapers.

3. Displays of affection, in general, are a very personal thing. There are always private dynamics to any relationship governing what is a reasonable display of affection in any given situation. An outside observer cannot accurately determine what kind of affection is appropriate to the individuals in the relationship. I'm sure if I followed Mr. Campbell around commenting on the appropriateness of his displays of affection, he would not appreciate it. The Harper children deserve the same respect. If he wants to find evidence of Stephen Harper not being a compassionate individual, I'm sure he can find it in policy. Leave the poor kids alone!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Insider Trading

This week's Ethicist deals with a doctor who finds out, in his professional capacity, that the CEO of a major company is seriously ill. The doctor wants to know if he can ethically sell his stock in this company. Randy Cohen says this would be considered insider trading.

But then, under the insider trading rules, can the doctor EVER sell his stock? In general, if you acquire insider information, can you EVER change the investment in question? What if he wanted to sell it anyway? What if he needed to liquidate it so he could use the money for something else?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Things I Don't Understand about the election results

1. It seems that some 36% of Canadians don't feel it necessary to improve the social safety net. This absolutely boggles my mind. Even if we completely discount any possible feelings of altruism, this means that more than one third of all Canadians do not think it possible that they or their loved ones will ever lose their jobs or not be able to find new jobs before the money runs out. And these are all people who lived through the early 90s recession and the dot-com bust, and yet they feel completely financially secure, no matter what happens. More than one third! This is simply unfathomable to me.

2. I don't get Stephen Harper's whole "The West got in!" thing. Yes, I am aware of the history of "The West wants in," but I just dno't get equating right-wingedness with "the West". (Aside for non-Canadians: in the context of Canada as a whole, "the West" means the western provinces, not the western hemisphere). Perhaps people ar emore conservative out west, I wouldn' tknow, I've never discussed politics in Alberta, but why would you equate your national party with only part of the country? Isn't that just going to alienate the voters in the rest of Canada who voted Conservative instead of Liberal this time around? Isn't that terribly insulting to socialists in the western provinces? If their intention is to represent "the West," they should do so explicitly. Set it out in their platform, call themselves the Western Bloc. But if their intention is to be a right-wing national party, they should be national.


Based on the information currently available, I voted correctly. I think the overall outcome could have been better, I also think it could have been worse. However, I voted precisely as I would have if I'd gone into that polling station knowing exactly how the outcome would have been.

There were I think four ridings I was following closely, because my close friends live there and I know their politics. The voting system I've been advocating produced the correct results in all four of those ridings; in other words, if my friends followed my system (and I don't know whether they did or not, it's none of my business) they would have cast the best possible vote for their ridings, given their politics. I don't directly and openly share political views with that many people, so I can't really vouch for the situation in more ridings.

More tomorrow evening - I have to be at work in 8 hours.

Monday, January 23, 2006


I felt like one of the elves, going in to fight at Helms Deep - a futile symbolic gesture, going out in a blaze of glory. I was wearing comfy runners, but I walked as tall as if I'd been wearing heels. I looked everyone I passed directly in the eye, unsmiling, with the kind of stare that would be considered a challenge among pack animals, not knowing who among them might be my judge, jury, or executioner. Into the polling station. Handed my ballot. Listened attentively to the instructions, despite the fact that I've done this many times before. I ceremonially bore the ballot over to the voting table, carefully unfolded it, and carefully, deliberately read the four familiar names, which I could have rattled off in my sleep.

Given my personal politics and the situation in the riding, I was faced with two clear choices: vote like a Gryffindor, or vote like a Slytherin.

I marked my X, folded the ballot off correctly, handed it back to the election lady so she could tear off the tear-off section, and placed it in the box with a jaunty tap. Then I thanked the lady and went home for a quick nap before I faced my doom.

I voted like a Gryffindor.

I'll walk the plank
Yes, I'll jump with a smile
If I'm gonna go down
I'm gonna do it with style

My kingdom for a Ravenclaw option.

Voters' Resources

This post has been post-dated, so it will be on top until election day. If the date and time indicated for the post have not yet passed, there may be new posts beneath this one.

This is an attempt to collect all the information you need to make an informed vote in one post. If I have missed anything, please feel free to leave a link in the comment.

Getting Started

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

If you have not received your voter information card, you can still vote on election day, you just need to take ID with your address and signature.

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


The platforms:

English summary of the Bloc Quebecois platform
Issue-by-issue summary of the Conservative platform
Green platform
Issue-by-issue summary of the Liberal platform
Issue-by-issue summary of the NDP platform

Tools to help you decide which party is best for you:

CBC Vote By Issue
Politics Watch Vote Selector
Globe and Mail Voter Analyzer

Strategy and Predictions

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

Election Prediction Project
Hill and Knowlton Election Predictor To use this tool you need poll results, which can be found at the Globe and Mail, as well as most other media outlets.
DemocraticSPACE Strategic Voting Guide and seat predictions
Jord's Election Prediction (national and regional seat projectsion, but no seat-by-seat)

If I've missed anything, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

At Home in the World: Canada’s Global Vision for the 21st Century by Jennifer Welsh

I really appreciated this book because it dealt intelligently with Canada's foreign policy without lapsing into the whole "OMG! Canada must be the single greatest country in the world or else we'll be a FAILURE!" thing. The author actually outright advocates Canada carving out a niche for itself as a minor power rather than trying to be a major global power, which I find quite refreshing. I did find it a bit off-putting that the author was discussing certain things that I consider to have an ethical component (like military involvement) from a purely pragmatic political perspective, without even considering ethics, but I guess that's what happens in international relations. It remains to be seen how relevant this book will be after Monday though.

"Look what I found in the parking lot..."

In the move Catch Me If You Can, the protagonist tries on a number of occasions to bribe various female employees with a necklace, presenting it as something like "Look what I found in the parking lot! It must have slipped right off your neck!"

That wouldn't work on me. Not because I'm so freaking virtuous, but because I'm so socially awkward I wouldn't recognize it as a bribe attempt. I would be all "No, that isn't mine at all - we should probably turn it in at the front desk in case someone comes by to claim it." If someone came up to me with "Look what I found," it would never occur to me to claim it as mine just because it's nice.

In Defence of Percy Weasley

Fandom condemnation of Percy Weasley generally comes down to two reasons: he did not believe Harry when he said that Voldemort had returned, and he left his family.

If you think about it from Percy's perspective, both of these actions were eminently reasonable and perfectly justified.

The main thing to keep in mind here is that Percy does not know that he's in a Harry Potter book. The fact that Harry is, functionally, the messiah is not known to Percy until a year after he leaves the family, and even then it's still a rumour. Percy thinks he's in a Percy Weasley book, just as we all tend to envision ourselves as the protagonist in the story of our lives, and sees Harry as only a tertiary background character - his little brother's friend. Also, we must remember that Voldemort lay low after his return. There was no noticeable threat at the time when Percy left the family, and the question of whether Voldemort had returned was, at best, a matter of one's political convictions, and, at work, an unsubstantiated rumour. At the time, Percy was 18 and Harry was 14 going on 15. Picture yourself at age 18. Have a younger sibling? Picture them at age 14/15. Would your 18-year-old self change their politcal convictions just because your 14/15-year-old sibling's friend says they're wrong? While Harry has done nothing to make Percy think he's a bad person or anything, Percy still sees him as a child with a difficult upbringing, and assigns him credibility on adult matters accordingly. He happens to be factually incorrect, but the method by which he arrived at his conclusion is not unreasonable.

As for leaving his family, that was an entirely reasonable thing for Percy to do. In fact, it was inevitable, even if they didn't have the rift over the return of Voldemort. Fans don't like the fact that Percy left because he was breaking up this big, fun, wonderful family. But the very things that make the Weasley family so much fun to read as fans make in unbearable for Percy to live in.

Most of the Weasleys are popular, athletic extroverts. Percy is more of an intellectual introvert, and less popular both at Hogwarts and in the family (as well as to the readers, but he doesn't know he's being read so that doesn't count.) Because of this, he doesn't identify with the majority of his family members, and they don't identify with him. With so many people in the house and most, if not all, of them being extroverts, Percy never gets a moment to himself. When an introvert is not alone (with the possible exception of when they're with someone they love enough to marry, and with the possible exception of when they're with their own child), the can't completely let their guard down - they feel they have to be "on". This is imply the nature of introversion. With Percy not even getting a room to himself (at the beginning of GOF, Mrs. Weasley says that Percy has his own room for the time being as though that's something exceptional), he is never 100% comfortable en famille.

Now add to this the fact that Percy is the favourite target of Fred & George's jokes. This means he has to have his guard up all the time, 24/7, even in his own home. That is no way to live. He must also feel some resentment towards his parents (and perhaps his older brothers too?) for not putting a stop to Fred & George's constant tormenting. Yes, we see Mrs. Weasley scolding the twins for their various jokes, but she is not able to stop them pre-emptively, and Percy still has to suffer through the jokes. It's fun for us to read, but it must be hell for Percy. Then he goes to Hogwarts and gets a taste of life without being a constant target. This just makes him realize how bad it actually is when he comes home. Then in his third year, Fred & George go to Hogwarts with him. His sanctuary is no longer safe; the comfortable little niche he has carved out for himself has been invaded by his very tormentors. He is once again the butt of jokes. The twins, being funny and outgoing, quickly become popular, and soon have everyone laughing at their jokes. Percy becomes the object of ridicule by his housemates and classmates, people whose treatment of him previously ranged from indifference to friendship. Again, he must be on guard 24/7.

In his fifth year, Percy becomes a Prefect. However, his brothers constantly undermine his authority. This explains the constant pomposity we see in him - it's an adolescent attempt at a defence mechanism. Percy has to have a certain authority in the school so he can carry out his Prefect duties and, later, his Head Boy duties, but he never knows when his brothers will make a fool of him. So he tries to deliberately exude authority at all times, hoping this might cancel out the mockery that will arise from his brothers' inevitable pranks. Even when he finishes Hogwarts and goes out to work at a real office job, his brothers continue to undermine his professionalism by sending him dragon dung. During all this, his family gives him practically no support, does nothing to stop the twins from tormenting him, does nothing to make his life easier. Despite the fact that he has done everything right - gotten a bunch of NEWTs and went straight into a job with a prestigious department at the Ministry - his family does nothing to make the twins treat Percy with at least basic human respect.

Then Percy gets the promotion of his dreams. Finally, someone is recognizing his worth! Percy proudly announces his news to his family . . . only to be told that he didn't get the promotion on merit, he just got it to spy on them, and he therefore shouldn't accept the promotion. This is the last straw! All his life, Percy was mocked and tormented while is parent stood idly by, and now they're trying to sabotage his career - the one place where he is treated with respect! So, like any 19-year-old in that position would do, Percy moves out.

Yes, it happened that Voldemort was back, but Percy didn't know. He had seen no evidence, so he chooses to trust empirical observation and the information he can access in his capacity as a Ministery worker rather than the word of a 14-year-old boy whose upbringing would probably make him more susceptible to attention-seeking behaviour and even mental health problems than the average 14-year-old. Yes, as it happens the Weasleys were of potential interest to spies, but they wouldn't have let Percy know this since he's not in the Order and is in the Ministry. Who would assume, apropos of nothing, that their frumpy, middle-aged parents were spies? What Percy sees is a family who has never made the effort to see that he's given basic human respect and always mocked him instead of applauding his accomplishments suddenly try to undermine and belittle his greatest achievement to date. They were more right than he knew, but he had no way of knowing that. Percy is far too old to just blindly trust and obey his parents, especially considering his history in the family, and we should not condemn him for acting in a way that was age- and circumstance-appropriate in the face of no credible mitigating information.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Canadian Politics for Foreigners

I just realized that lately my blog might be inscrutable to my non-Canadian readers, so here's a quick summary for foreigners, making generous use of gross generalizations in the service of brevity. If you are Canadian, this is not for you. Canadians should use my post-dated "Voters Resources" post above to decide how to vote.

The parties, right to left:

Conservatives: This is Canada's right-most mainstream party. They are perhaps somewhat to the right of the US Democratic party, but still well to the left of the US Republican party. The impression I get is that they would prefer to be closer to the US Republican party, but the Canadian public wouldn't stand for it. Their general position is fiscally and socially conservative, and their guiding principle is that there should be less government. They are an amalgamation of the former Progressive Conservative (centre-right) and Canadian Alliance (formerly Reform) (far-right/neocon) parties. They are currently the Opposition, and have governed in their past incarnation as the Progressive Conservatives.

Liberals: Canada's centrist party, well to the left of the US Democratic party. They are fiscally conservative, perhaps out of necessity, but socially centre-left, and not opposed to spending on social programs. The impression I get is that they try to be all things to all people. They have been the Government for the past 12 years, and have been the Opposition in the past.

Green: This party is trying to become mainstream, running candidates in every riding, but so far they have never won a seat. They focus mainly on environmental issues, but do have substantive positions on other issues. They are generally perceived to be far-left and radical, and they are further left than the Liberal party socially, but they are actually rather fiscally conservative, on par with the Liberals, or perhaps even further right.

Bloc Quebecois: This party's primary mission is to promote the interests of Quebec (Canada's mostly French-speaking province) at the federal level. They are looked on with some suspicion in the rest of Canada, because they tend to associate themselves with Separatists, who want Quebec to separate from the rest of Canada. They are further left than the Liberal party, (but not quite as far left as the NDP), mostly because Quebeckers tend to be further left than the rest of Canada on average. They have been the Opposition in the past.

NDP (New Democratic Party): Canada's furthest-left mainstream party. Historically a workers' party, but it does enjoy significant support from urban professionals. While most people do agree with the majority of their policy proposals, there is some concern about what a left-wing party would do to Canada's budget situation. They have held seats in the House of Commons for several decades, but have never been the Government or the Opposition.

There are also other smaller parties that have not held seats, but these parties aren't running in my riding so I don't know anything about them.

The current situation:

The Liberal party, which is currently governing by a precarious minority, was recently involved in a corruption scandal. As a result, the other parties all banded together to cause the government to fall, triggering an election. Among the general population, there is a lot of will to overthrow the Liberals, who have been governing for 12 years and are perceived by many as corrupt and hegemonous. The Conservatives are the only party who could win more seats than the Liberals. However, the Conservative position is seen as uncomfortably right-wing by a lot of people. They have been trying to soften and moderate their image lately, which has won over some voters, but other voters still remain suspicious. The other parties have a chance of holding the balance of power in a minority government, but only slim chance of becoming the Opposition and no chance of becoming the Government.

Some people will vote Conservative, just to defeat the Liberals; other people will react to this by voting Liberal, just to defeat the Conservatives. In a limited number of left-wing ridings where the Conservatives have no chance of winning, some people will vote NDP, just to defeat the Liberals. A lot of people in Quebec will vote Bloc. Some people will vote Green just for the sake of not voting for any of the other guys. And, of course, some people will vote with their conscience for the party that most closely matches their values, but strategic voting has always been something of a Canadian tradition and has to be taken into account.

The election is on Jan. 23, and the current prediction is a Conservative minority, which might swing into a Conservative majority. However, the possibility of a Liberal minority upset has not yet been completely eliminated.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Indaba Shiraz

This is a really interesting wine, because the sort of sharp/zippy taste that usually comes from tannin in a shiraz doesn't come from tannin here - it comes from the fruit itself. Instead of being tannic, the tang comes more from the part of raspberry flavour that is present in raspberries, but not in Schwepp's Raspberry Gingerale (do they even still make it?) I find it much preferable to most shirazes for that very reason, although carnivores may not agree.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The subtle joys of adulthood

Because I am a grownup
If I need to take something somewhere with me
I can carry it in a purse, or a tote bag, or a backpack,
Or a gym bag, or a suit case,
Or any other kind of luggage I own or can acquire
Instead of being told "Just stick it in a plastic bag!"

And if I do choose to put it in a plastic bag
I can go through the entire plastic bag collection picking out just the right one
Nice shape, strong, sturdy
Not too cheap looking, aesthetically pleasing
From a suitably fashionable store
Instead of being told to stop being so picky
And made to put it in a bag from Biway.

And if I do choose to use a bag from Biway
(Or the 21st-century Toronto equivalent cheap, unfashionable, much-mocked store)
I can go about my business
Secure in the knowledge
That no one will spit on me, vandalize my possessions, or sexually harrass me
For carrying my spare indoor shoes in an unfashionable plastic bag.

The Divine Husband by Francisco Goldman

As a linguist, I enjoyed this book SO much! It is originally written in English, but in many parts it's written in an English that is intended to give the impression that it's a translation from Spanish, while preserving dialect features. In some points, the author takes this conceit a step further by introducing Anglophones into the Hispanic milieu, and altering the syntax of the English text to give the impression of what Anglophone syntax used in the Spanish language sounds like to Hispanophones. It's all very exciting!

Plotwise, the book could benefit from more clues and fewer red herrings. The "mystery" of the book is the identity of the father of the protagonist's child, but the book spends too much time focusing on the people who AREN'T the father, so the reader couldn't have figured it out themselves. When books have a mystery element, I really prefer to have a chance of figuring it out myself, or at least look back and see clues (c.f. Prisoner of Azkaban). However, this book is still worth reading just for the linguistic goodness.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Things I Don't Understand: limited characters in electronic forms

I was filling out a contact form on a business's website, to ask them a question about a product. Unfortunately, they limited the number of characters in the main box of the form, and my question was way over the limit. So I edited out all the niceties, ("I was wondering if...", "Would it be possible to...", "Thank you very much") but I was still over the character limit. So then I eliminated the background information to give some context of why I was making this request. Still over the limit. So I pared down my prose as much as possible, used shorter synonyms, even took out the less important words in the specific product name, shortening the five-word name to two words and hoping they'd know what I meant. I was finally within the limit, but the result was two terse, brisk, business-like sentences. None of the niceties and social lubricants that usually characterize business prose, no context of why I want to know this strange factoid, no specific product names and helpful web links. It was like walking up to a stranger, unintroduced, and barking out, apropos of nothing, "Where's the subway?" without even bothering to modulate your tone to make the request sound more friendly.

Why do web sites do this on their "contact us" forms? It only hinders clarity and politeness. I realize that conciseness is nice, but so is completeness. I've had a job where I read and dealt with incoming emails, and I seriously doubt the time saved by forcing the emails to be very short would actually be significant, especially considering the time that would be wasted when the email-answerer does not understand the question properly or has to seek out further clarification. My original request was not that long - it was shorter than this blog entry - so what possible advantage could there be for companies to limit their form so tightly?

On drugs or off drugs?

Someone I was talking to today mentioned that if he saw someone behaving erratically for no explicable reason, he would assume the erratic behaviour is due to the person being on drugs.

I thought about it for a moment, and I realized that I would assume the erratic behaviour is due to them being mentally ill and off their meds.

Funny how two opposite situations can produce the same result.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Redraw the midtown riding map!

The current riding map does not serve the Yonge & Eglinton neighbourhood well. The neighbourhood is split up into three different ridings - Don Valley West, Eglinton-Lawrence, and St. Paul's - and we find ourselves off in the very corner of each of these ridings. As a result of this, the candidates don't reach us as well. I have seen precisely zero candidate signs this election, and about 25% of the campaign flyers I get are for candidates from other ridings, due to the fact that I'm a block away from each of the two other ridings.

If we must define our community by adjacent geography, I would consider Yonge & Eg. to be my community. I certainly feel more of a sense of shared community with someone just on the other side of Yonge than I do with the people down on St. Clair who are campaigning against streetcar lanes. However, the riding map has divided my geographic community up among three ridings, leaving us as an afterthough in each of our representatives' minds. My representatives and my riding candidates are very good at representing my needs as a Torontonian, but they simply to not take into account my needs as a Yonge & Egger, because only a small part of the neighbourhood is in the riding.

Everywhere else I've lived, the entire community has been part of one riding. Other communities were included in the riding too, but the geographic area that I perceived as "my community" was not split up. When I talked politics with someone I considered a neighbour, I was certain they would be in the same riding as me. Unfortunately, this is not the case at Yonge & Eg. in the 21st century.

Next time the riding map is changed, all of the Yonge & Eg. neighbourhood should be included in the same riding. We are a small, densely populated area with (by reputation, at least) a rather uniform demographic that is likely to have similar political needs. To split us up defeats the purpose of having ridings in the first place.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Every party's election platform, summed up in once sentence

Every party's election platform, summed up in once sentence:

"Judge me on my current platform, but judge my opponent on his sordid history."

Election lawn signs

The Star published a poll today asking if election lawn signs influence people's votes. This made me realize that I have not seen a single lawn sign this campaign. Not one. This is probably a combination of the facts that I live in an apartment, I commute by subway, and I live in the very corner of my riding.

They've never really had much influence on me anyway, unless I was considering a strategic vote - then a sea of The Worst Party's colours might convince me to go strategic. But over all, I don't pay much attention. This year I've seen zero signs, and I didn't even realize this until the specific topic of election signs came up.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

How to Vote Strategically

Some people vote in an attempt to elect The Best Party (TBP). Other people vote in an attempt to prevent The Worst Party (TWP) from being elected. This is called strategic voting. Unfortunately, some people aren't very strategic about strategic voting - I've seen far too many people look at a national poll, see that TWP is uncomfortably close to the lead, and therefore vote for the party most likely to defeat TWP. It's not that simple. Your vote only works to elect a representative for your riding, so you need to vote strategically based on who is likely to win your riding, not who is likely to win the country.

Luckily, I've found three useful tools to help predict your riding. I can't vouch for their accuracy, but you can read about their methodology and decide for yourself. Try them all out and see if they agree.

The Election Prediction Project

If the prediction for your riding indicates that TWP will win, or that your race is too close to call, then you should vote strategically by voting for the party most likely to defeat TWP in your riding (i.e. not necessarily the same as the party most likely to defeat TWP nationwide). If you can't tell which party is most likely to defeat TWP in your riding, click on the name of your riding and read user comments. If the prediction for your riding indicates that a party other than TWP will win, vote for TBP.

Hills Knowlton Election Predictor

Click on "Split" and enter the most recent poll numbers. Poll numbers are always available from the Globe and Mail, and I'm sure you can find more by looking at the front page of your newspaper or poking around Google News. Then go to the map view to see which way your riding goes. If the map shows your riding will elect The TWP, click on your riding on the map to see which party is likely to come in second, and vote for that party. You might also want to do a Doomsday prediction, by inserting the highest historical poll results (available through the Globe and Mail) for TWP and the lowest historical poll results for TBP and the party that's most likely to defeat TWP (if you have any leftover percentage points, you can just stick them in the Other column).

If The Worst Party never shows up as a winner in your riding, vote for The Best Party. If The Worst Party wins under the most recent poll results, a strategic vote is preferable. If The Worst Party shows up under the Doomsday scenario only, you might want to see what other prediction methods have to say.

Democratic Space

This one works particularly well if you have a strong party affiliation, but still feel a strategic vote might be necessary. Simply click on the link for the party you consider to be TBP, then do what the page tells you.

Maybe it's the Boomers' fault

I once heard, in a more American context, that the Baby Boomers are the generation that got the legal drinking age reduced to 18 so they could drink when they were in college, then got it raised to 21 so their kids couldn't drink in college.

I think perhaps they're doing the same thing with the social safety net.

I've been complaining at some length about the fact that strengthening the social safety net doesn't even seem to be an issue in this election. I think that's because of the Baby Boomers. They're all approaching retirement age, so they have nice nest eggs saved up, and worst case could survive on their savings and the pensions that are already guaranteed to them. So that's why they're filling the op-ed pages with all this rhetoric on how the expectation of a 60s-70s-style social safety net is obsolete. Because they don't need it any more. They had it to catch them when they were just starting out, and now that they don't need it any more they're working towards dismantling it to deny the same security to those pesky kids.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Gun violence roundup


The other day on Metro Morning, Andy Barrie said there are two Torontos: one populated by young black men, which has a high murder rate, and another populated by everyone else, which has a lower murder rate. I think saying young black men was a poor choice of words here, unless it was true. It seems to me that the higher murder rate occurs among people involved in gangs and/or drugs. While I realize there is significant overlap between the two groups, I think the fact of being young and black and male is only incidental, and the fact of being involved in gangs/drugs is the real key factor. If a young black man who is not involved in gangs or drugs is still at high risk of being involved in gun violence, and if someone who is not young or black or male but is involved in gangs or drugs is still at a low risk of being involved in gun violence, then it was correct to use the phrase "young black men." But if this is not the case, then it was incorrect, and an unfortunate case of linguistic laziness leading to stereotyping in the media.

Andy Barrie has also been asking people what they think of the phrase "black on black violence." I think it is not only unfortunate, but also incorrect, unless the root cause of the violence is, in fact race - in other words if there are black people walking around thinking "I will shoot that person because they are black, but I will not shoot that other person because they are not black."

There have been letters to the editor saying that the shooters should not be considered victims, because their victims are victims. The problem with this assertion is that it is semantically incorrect. The concept of "victim" is not zero-sum. Even if someone is a perp in one situation, that does not automatically negate the possibility that they might be a victim in another situation. While enough perp-like behaviour would make a person considered primarily a perp and not so much a victim, semantically one does not cease to be a victim, so it is still perfectly valid to call them that.


There was an article in today's Star that went into some depth about how fatherlessness leads to violence. As someone who has a father (who I would describe as involved, perhaps even over-involved), none of this rings true for me. While I can see how not having a father might lead to anger (judging solely by discussions with my friends who are fatherless, or who feel that their fathers are underinvolved), I don't think that having a father is panacea.

The article cites research that shows that children with involved fathers are more compassionate. This runs directly counter to my experience. My own father is less compassionate than I think a person should be. When I was younger, I was more easily influenced by my parents - I assumed that my parents' attitudes were automatically correct and should be emulated - and my father's lack of compassion lead me to be a less compassionate person than I think I should be. It wasn't until I was able to distance myself from my father's influence that I reached an acceptable level of compassion. To this day, I am still embarrassed by and ashamed of my attitude under my father's influence, and I am still trying to make amends for it. Perhaps if the father himself is more compassionate the children might end up being more compassionate, but I don't think the mere presence of a father automatically leads to compassion in the child.

It also states that fatherless children see their mothers being abused by their boyfriends, and the anger and helplessness they feel causes them to act out violently. However, it neglects to mention that the fact of being a father does not negate the possibility that a man might also be an abuser. Abusers don't just stop being abusive because they have managed to produce a child. I'm sure the same anger and helplessness is present in children who see their mother being abused by their biological father, and perhaps the net effect is even worse, because the children might have a certain degree of loyalty to and respect for their biological father that they may not have with someone they perceive as an interloper. Also, a child may feel anger, resentment, and helplessness as a result of any real or perceived injustice in the parental relationship, even if this injustice is not considered abuse. I am personally familiar with several situations in which children of happy marriages felt resentment towards their biological father because they saw their mother doing more housework while the father engaged in recreational activities. (I am not postulating that this sense of injustice only follows one set of gender lines, but other gender role combinations are beyond the scope of both the article and my own pool of anecdotal evidence).

In addition to all this, there are a number of statements in the article that simply presented as givens, without being supported or fleshed out in a way that made me understand them. For example, it says that fatherless children seek out gangs so they can get respect. But how does not having a father lead to the child not feeling respected? Having a father did not make me feel respected - my father had absolutely zero net effect on how much respect I felt I was getting. And if the absence of a father is, in fact, making them feel less respected, how would thuggish behaviour fill that gap? I can see how one might feel like they're getting respect after becoming a bully, but how would the respect that comes from being feared by one's peers make up for whatever respect one gets by the presence of a father? It seems to me that they'd be completely different kinds of respect. It also says that fatherless young men act out to make them feel manly. How does not having a father make one feel less manly? As a woman with a father I simply have no concept of this, and if the authors of the article wanted me to understand it, they should have explained it explicitly, step by step.

I think this article oversimplifies things. While those without fathers are quite likely to glamourize the benefits that the a father could bring to their life, I'd say over half the people I've discussed this with who have involved fathers feel their lives would have been better with less paternal involvement. The presence of a father is not necessarily panacea, and the absence of a father isn't necessarily a recipe for disaster. It is more important to have positive adult role models, and I think this article went too far in assuming that a biological father is automatically a positive adult role model.

Safety in randomness

I still feel perfectly safe in Toronto. This is not because of race or money as some assert, but rather because the vast majority of murders in Toronto are related to gangs or drugs. Neither I nor anyone I know is involved in gangs or drugs, and while it would be foolish to assert that these problems do not exist in my neighbourhood, they do not occur openly in the areas I frequent. Therefore, the only way I'm likely to get murdered is by accident, and I can live with those odds. I realize that random accidents are the very thing that many people find scary, but I would be much more frightened if there was a serial killer out there whose target demographic I fit perfectly. The people doing the killing don't actively want to kill me, and that's enough to make me not worry.

What the candidates need to know about my generation

I was born in 1980, on the cusp of Gen. X and Gen. Y. I have traits of both generations, but do not fully fit into either.

People my age became economically aware in the recession years of the late 80s and early 90s. We saw in the news (and maybe even in our own parents) all about the layoffs, we heard how no one would ever be able to have job security at all ever again, and we grew up fully expecting that, throughout our adult lives, we would lose our jobs for reasons that were completely beyond our control, and we would have difficulty finding new jobs through no fault of our own.

We witnessed the dot-com boom first hand, but most of us were too young to take part in it, still being in high school or just starting post-secondary education. However, we heard about enough wunderkindern that we felt guilty for not being able to actively take advantage of the dot-com boom. We were surrounded by constant pressure to build a website and become a millionaire, despite the fact that we were still in school, and we worried about whether there was any room in this new economy for people who are comptetent but not quite exceptional, for people who are talented and hard-working, but not really entreprenurial.

Then we witnessed the dot-com bust, and felt like we had just missed the bullet. We were, after all, not that far away from being in the workforce ourselves. If our parents had met a year or two earlier, or the vagaries of our parents' birth control had been slightly different, we would have been out there ourselves, out of a job and with nothing to show for it but a handful of suddenly worthless stock options. Indeed, many of us were still enrolled in pricey computer science degrees that we feared would be worthless.

We do not feel economically secure, even when we have good jobs. We do not see a booming economy as panacea, because we've seen the aftermath thereof shatter people's dreams and lives. We do not believe education, hard work, good intentions, and the right attitude will necessarily be enough to enable us to support ourselves. Economically, we do not feel in control of our own destinies. Those of us who are doing okay for ourselves can't help but wonder when the other shoe is going to fall; those of us who are struggling find it very difficult to believe that it's ever going to get better.

So what can you do for us?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Chronicles, Volume 1 by Bob Dylan

I didn't like this book for the same reason that I don't like most autobiographies. It was basically a list of names and books and movies and music and seemingly minor events that were of no interest to me as a casual fan. While he did do a good job "painting a picture" - describing the environment and the era and the mood - what he actually had to say was of very little interest to me, although it might be of more interest to a more hardcore fan.

I feel this way about almost every autobiography I read. Maybe I just shouldn't read them any more.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

J. J. McWilliam Cabernet Merlot

As Col. Potter from MASH once said, there aren't enough O's in smoooooth to do this wine justice. It brings out the best in Cabernet Sauvignon and the best in Merlot, reminding me of why one would bother to put something as finicky as Cabernet Sauvignon in something as pleasant as Merlot.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Wherein money buys happiness

Having a home that is in good enough condition that I only very rarely get bugs, and therefore only very rarely get panic attacks, makes me happy.

Knowing that I have the resources to recover from any emergency that might be thrown my way makes me happy.

Eating and drinking whatever I want, whenever I feel like it makes me happy.

Wearing clothing and cosmetics and glasses that make me feel attractive and pulled-together and in control the appearance I present to the world makes me happy.

Long, luxurious morning showers make me happy.

Taking classes makes me happy.

High-speed internet makes me happy.

My computer makes me happy.

Reading, watching, and playing whatever books, movies, and computer games I want, whenever I feel like it makes me happy.

Savouring two newspapers over my morning coffee makes me happy.

Subscribing to the TV stations that carry my very favourite shows makes me happy.

Having a station in life that causes the vast majority of people to treat me with basic human respect makes me happy.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Things They Should Invent: Ask A Murderer

There has been a lot of discussion about how to make people stop shooting people. I can see pros and cons of every idea presented, but what do I know? I'm not a murderer, I find the gangster lifestyle distasteful, and I wouldn't touch a gun if offered the opportunity - I'd like to think I wouldn't touch one if my life depended on it, but I've never been in that sort of situation so I can't say for sure.

So what they should really do is ask murderers to evaluate the various ideas for stopping the violence.

Are there any investigative reporters reading this? If so, you can get this started. Track down some known murderers - reformed or not, preferably some of each. Interview them. Present them with the various ideas being kicked around. Ask them what would have worked on them and what would not. Make the results of the interviews public. Bring it to the elected officials.

Feel free to steal this idea. Feel free to take all the credit. Just someone do it - it's perfectly doable by anyone with criminology and/or investigative reporting skills!