Monday, July 31, 2006

Interesting demographic phenomenon

With the baby boomer population reaching retirement age, we're going to have an interesting phenomenon in the next 10 years or so: a generation of seniors that (for the most part, using the gross generalizations that are necessary to demography) did not live through hardship when they were young.

It's sort of a cultural touchstone that Seniors Suffered Through Hardship. The 1930s were the Great Depression, the 1910s and 1940s were World Wars, so anyone who lived through those decades was (at least during my lifetime) generally considered to have Been Through Hardship. But the boomers? Nothing so all-encompassing. Individuals went through hardships, sure, but the generation as a whole was born and raised in an era that is, by general cultural consensus, idealistic and propserous. Their childhood is the touchstone that people harken back to when they want to evoke A Better Time or The Good Old Days.

I wonder how that's going to effect society as a whole, to have elders who are not considered to have been through hardship - and, with the economy and employment patterns being what they are, to have possibly enjoyed more security and propserity than their children and grandchildren ever will?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

One more point about gym class

An addendum to my explanation of why gym class should not be mandatory:

Think of all the things you were forced to do when you were a kid, but hated doing.

How many of those things do you actively seek out as an adult?
How many of those things do you actively avoid as an adult?

What do people enjoy about being an adult? Ask around, google the blogosphere, bring it up as a "getting to know you" question, and you'll get comments on eating cookies instead of brussel sprouts, staying up as late as you want, not being dragged to churches you don't believe in and smelly bigoted relatives' houses, seeing something you want in a store and simply buying it yourself.

Essentially, the joy of adulthood comes down to being able to choose not to do the things you hated doing as a kid. Except in cases of psychological abuse or brainwashing, I've never heard of someone who hates to do something suddenly starting to love it because they were forced to do it for even longer, and I've never in any case heard of a grown adult suddenly starting to love the things they were forced against their will to do as a kid.

Frankly, I'm rather surprised that so many people seem to think more mandatory phys. ed. is a solution. Obviously these aren't he people who hated phys. ed. as kids, but can't they draw just one simple parallel with their own memories of things they hated as a kid and see that this isn't going to work?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Dual citizenship: points to keep in mind

With the recent evacuation of Canadian citizens from Lebanon, there has been some debate on Canada's policies on dual citizenship. Coincidentally, I recently did some research on dual citizenship, and learned a number of interesting things that I haven't seen mentioned in this debate:

1. Some countries don't have a mechanism for renouncing citizenship. It simply cannot be done. There is no enabling legal statute, their computers simply do not allow a citizen to be deleted from the database, basically you can't renounce your citizenship any more than you can walk into city hall and buy a fish licence for your pet fish, Eric. Some people have brought up the idea of requiring new Canadian citizens to renounce any other citizenships. But what would happen if the other country didn't recognize the renunciation?

2. In some countries, citizenship is automatically hereditary. Any child of a citizen is also a citizen. This means that there may be some dual citizens walking around who don't even know that they are dual citizens. From a more pratical perspective, it is quite possible for someone to be born in Canada and inherit a citizenship from an immigrant parent, but not speak the language of the old country since they have lived all their lives in Canada. Since not all countries publish their citizen information in English or French, these unwilling dual citizens would not even be able to do the research to learn whether they are dual citizens and how or if they can renounce their other citizenship. (Realistically, the parent may well be able to help, but we can't make policy that assumes everyone's parents are living and willing and able to help them.)

3. Parents deal with citizenship issues on behalf of their minor children. I don't know the details here, but if a couple with young children immigrates, no one is going to ask, say, a six-year-old to take the citizenship exam and the oath. Teenagers maybe, I'm not sure, but simple logic dictates that parents must be able to act on their children's behalf for citizenship as with any other legal matter. If the whole citizenship thing happens when the kid is too young to understand, and they've been a Canadian citizen as long as they can remember, they may well not think to look into their old country citizenship status. I myself know some people who immigrated as children, have been Canadian citizens for decades, and only recently learned that they still hold old country citizenship after being informed that they might by someone else in the same position.

These sound like minor exceptional cases, but we need to take them into consideration when making dual citizenship policies - especially since they can occur in combination.

Picture this: a family immigrates and becomes Canadian citizens when their children are young. The children grow up and have children in Canada, with these children automatically being Canadian citizens. The children grow up, the grandparents (i.e. the original adult immigrants) pass away. However, unbeknownst to any of the survivors (and perhaps to the grandparents, since they didn't have internet when they immigrated), the old country has hereditary citizenship with no way of renouncing it. So one of the Canadian-born generation travels to the old country on a classic 20-something journey of self-discovery, when disaster strikes and they need to be evacuated. But guess what? They can't be evacuated because it turns out they're a citizen of the old country, even though they're born in Canada, in Old Country for the first time in their life, and hardly even speak the language!

Free advice

It's 1:00 a.m., I'm flossing my teeth, and my brain suddenly gives me one sentence that sums up a whole lot of the important things I've learned in my life. So here it is, free for the taking:

Make your decisions based on what you do want, not on what you think you should want.

We get a lot of messages telling us, directly or indirectly, what we should want - social influence, family values, the platitudes spouted by those around us,* themes in pop culture, the prevailing wisdom in advice columns, the goals set in self-help books - they all seem to be nudging us towards having uniform wants. I have learned to look critically at my goals and analyze whether they are things I really do want or just things I've been conditioned to want, and to work towards what I really do want, even if it is universally unpopular. The choices for which I've had the least support are the ones that I regret the least.

*Yes, I do realize that this whole thing is a platitude and therefore negates itself.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Formula for when teachers can consider former students to be adults

Cary Tennis had a letter from a teacher who had an affair with a former student, who was legally an adult at the time. This triggered an interesting discussion in the comment as to when, if ever, teachers can ethically consider their students as adults for fraternization purposes.

This inspired me to make a mathematical formula for when high school teachers and students can socially consider each other to be peers. I am in no way qualified to rule on this, but I like making up rules, and that's what blogs are for.

In order for the student to be considered an adult on par with the teacher, the following conditions must be met:

1. The student must have graduated
2. Any of the student's younger siblings, cousins, or other same-generation relatives who attended the same school, and whose attendance at that school overlapped that of the student in question, must also have graduated. This includes half-siblings, step-siblings, and any other members of the same generation residing in the same household as the student or any blood relatives.
3. Anyone who attended this school at the same time as any of the people listed above must have graduated. This means that if the school starts at grade 9, the people who were in grade 9 when the people listed above graduated must also have graduated.
4. Any former student who is the parent of one of the teacher's current student is automatically considered socially equal to the teacher, regardless of any other factors.

These conditions should ensure that the student in question is psychologically separated from identifying as a student, and is therefore able to look on the teacher as a peer.

I will illustrate this with examples below. For the purposes of these examples, I am using the calendar year in which the academic year ended to refer to the entire academic year. In other words, when I say 1999, I mean the 1998-1999 academic year. So:

I graduated from high school in 1999, at age 18. The students who were in grade 9 in 1999 graduated from high school in 2003.* This means that, if I were an only child, I would be a social equal with my teachers in 2003, at age 22.

However, I am not an only child. I have a sister, who graduated from the same high school I did in 2002. The students who were in grade 9 in 2002 finished high school in 2005.* This means that I would be considered a social equal with my teachers in 2005, at age 24.

Now suppose my aunt lived in the same neighbourhood as we did. My aunt has five children, the oldest of whom was in grade 9 when I was in grade 13, and the youngest of whom is 10 years younger than me. This means that her children would have been in the same high school that I went to, non-stop, from the time I was there to 9 years after I graduated.* The last of these cousins would graduate in 2008, and the students that were in grade 9 in 2008 would graduate in 2011. This means that I would be a social equal with my teachers in 2011, at age 30.

However, suppose my aunt had only her youngest child, and suppose I was an only child. Under this model, I would finish high school in 1999, and then none of my relatives would attend this school until 2005. This means that there's enough of a gap between myself and my cousin that his attendance at the school wouldn't influence my status, and I would be considered socially equal to my teachers in 2003, just the same as if I were the only member of my family attending.

*The inconsistency in these numbers is due to the fact that grade 13 was eliminated in Ontario in the interim. I find it easier to work with real-life numbers than to redo the math as though grade 13 had never existed.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

How to improve physical fitness among students who don't like phys. ed.

It seems the media's on about phys. ed. again, this time fretting over the fact that fewer high school students are taking phys. ed. The comments here are inspired by this interview from Metro Morning (direct link to RAM file) but here's a brief print article if you don't want to bother listening.

The problem in all of this is that the experts they are consulting are people who like phys. ed. The two people in the interview are both gym teachers, and a grown adult isn't going to become a gym teacher if they hated phys. ed. in school - they're going to pick another teachable or a completely different career paths. If they really want productive suggestions, they should ask people who hate phys. ed.

Therefore, I offer myself up as an expert. My credentials: I was raised in a family where physical activity was strongly valued, and was in excellent physical condition throughout childhood. However, phys. ed. class in middle school and high school led me to detest physical activity of any sort. The last day of mandatory gym class in grade 9 was the most liberating day of my life thus far, and then I turned my back on all physical activity until almost 10 years later, when I picked it up again, strongly against my will and hating every moment, in the service of being able to fit into my clothes.

First I will go over the points that the original interview completely missed, and then I will offer up two simple suggestions for improving physical fitness among students who don't like gym class.

Points they missed:

1. Phys. Ed. is a class, and students get grades. This means that those of us who aren't athletic or coordinated, or are timid as the result of a particularly traumatic childhood athletic injury, or, in some contexts, are near the bottom of the social ladder, will get a poor grade. This will pulls down our average, decreasing our chances of getting university acceptances and scholarships, as well as the possibility of putting "Honour Roll" on our resume at an age where people don't have very much to put on their resumes at all. If you're getting A's in all your classes except for one in which you're getting a C, of course you're going to drop that class!

2. Phys. Ed. is the most "Lord of the Flies" part of the school experience. For those of us who were at the bottom end of the social spectrum, it was pure hell. The locker room forced us to expose the details of our physique to our tormentors, and gave them the opportunity to sexually harass us and steal or vandalize our possessions. The gym gave our tormentors plenty of opportunities to throw things at us, grab us, and swarm us entirely as part of mandated activities, plus the noise and chaos gave them plenty of opportunities to hiss vicious insults in our direction without the teacher noticing. Plus it added a myriad of complications to the system of unspoken rules that you must obey to avoid being tortured on the playground. Performing well athletically was commendable, but sweating was an egregious violation. Also, showering was "gay", but so was changing your bra, and changing your socks made you a total dork. If your classmates could tell that you were making an effort, then you were a keener and a suckup and therefore subject to public humiliation, but they'd also get mad at you if you didn't hold up your end of the teamwork. Oh, and if your job in the basketball game was to cover a popular girl, and you did your job well, you'd get a lecture on how rude it is to stand in front of someone while she's trying to play basketball, and then all the popular girls would block your way outside of gym class, like when you're trying to go to class or find a stall in the bathroom or a seat on the schoolbus. Associating all physical activity with this sort of environment isn't going to increase people's desire to engage in physical activity - quite the opposite!

Ask yourself:

1. How many people did you know who originally had no particular interest in athletics, but grew to love athletics because of phys. ed. class?
2. How many people do you know who originally had nothing against athletics, but grew to hate athletics because of phys. ed. class?

So, taking all this into account, what do we do for solutions?

1. Do NOT make ANY phys. ed. mandatory. While it may get people moving in the short term (or may just get them wedgies and fractures), it will only increase dislike and resentment for the subject in the long term. Life after high school is much longer than life in high school, so what you want to do is give students the tools they need to make their own informed fitness decisions. How do you do that?

2. Make Health and Phys. Ed. completely separate subjects. In my school days, they were one class, taught by the same teacher in the same period. The teacher would just deem certain days phys. ed. days and other days health days, as necessary. The problem is that this associated health class with phys. ed. class, which gave it negative connotations, and also told us that it really doesn't need to be taken as seriously. Picture it: you take the very group of people that has already established a bullying dynamic, the very teacher who has allowed the bullying dynamic to be perpetuated under his or her watch, at a schedule time that everyone has associated with running around like idiots, and then try to take this opportunity to teach the students sex ed.? Not the safest-feeling environment ever. Health class taught us a lot of useful things, such as some pretty decent sex ed., physical fitness theory (I acquired the basic knowledge required to design a physical training regime - without the help of the internet!), first aid, how your bones and muscles etc. work - it was all quite useful, and I would have enjoyed it as an academic class. However, by associating it with phys. ed, having it taught during a phys. ed. period by a phys. ed. teacher, I got the subconscious message "This is not for you," "This is not academically serious," "You are not going to be able to succeed in this class." (I ended up getting 98% in the health component, and 64% in the phys. ed. component. Unfortunately, the phys. ed. component was weighted more heavily). Health is for everyone, not just the most athletic among us. A student who does well in Health will be able to come up with their own plan to take care of their body, even if they don't want to take phys. ed. as a class. Schools should give students the background knowledge they need to do this, and then let them choose whether or not they want to be subjected to phys. ed. A student who knows basic fitness and nutrition theory is better equipped in the long term to take good care of themselves than a student who has had any enjoyment of athletics beaten out of them by mandatory gym classes.

Perhaps the best solution would be to separate health and phys. ed., and require only one course in one or the other in high school. That way, the athletic kids can enjoy running around playing Lord of the Flies, and the non-athletic kids can learn the theory they need to make their own fitness regimes whenever and wherever they feel safe doing so.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Worst phrasing ever!

A brief description of atrocities in Congo, in a mostly-unrelated article:

...husbands were forced to watch as their wives and daughters were systematically gang-raped

Awww, they had to watch! Poor babies! I mean yeah, it's certainly unpleasant, but the husbands weren't the ones being raped! They aren't the primary victims! Presenting it that way is so...unempathetic! Honestly, I was shocked to see that the author is female. I would think that maybe a more narrow-minded man would think of it in those terms, but I simply cannot fathom how, in a situation where all the rape victims were female, a woman would not identify directly with the rape victims and automatically focus on their pain.

A more appropriate phrasing would be "Women were systematically gang-raped in front of their families." Because the women were the victims, so they should be the focus, and the fact that their husbands or fathers had to watch just added to their humiliation, which should also be the focus. Taking the focus away from the rape victims' ordeal and focusing instead on the pain of their family members is just a slap in the face of all the rape victims.

I'd expect better from a female writer who appears to work for some kind of humanitarian organization.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


For those of you who aren't familiar with Toronto, Eglinton Ave. is a busy street. In five minutes of walking along Eg in the tail end of the morning rush hour, I cross paths with at least 100 people. At any time of day or night, weekday or weekend, if I crossed paths with fewer than 20 people on the same walk, I'd be surprised at how empty it is.

Today as I was walking along Eg, I saw a little boy, maybe five years old, maybe younger, kicking a paper cup like he was playing soccer. His mother followed behind him, close enough to provide appropriate supervision, but far enough to give him a bit of space for his little game. I watched him as I walked along, and I noticed that whenever his paper cup crossed the path of an adult walking in the opposite direction, they'd kick it back at him, temporarily becoming his teammates in his little game of soccer, helping him execute an intricate passing sequence to keep the ball away from the imaginary opponents.

Now THAT'S community!

Things They Should Invent: "How to call the doctor" lessons

I have no idea how to go about calling my family doctor. I don't know how much information I'm supposed to give to the receptionist, I don't know how much the receptionist knows medically, and I don't know enough about their office operations to know what constitutes a reasonable request and what constitutes being too demanding. I don't know if, when I'm scheduling the appointment, it's helpful or extraneous to mention that I want the appointment because I think I have strep throat. If I don't know whether I need a complete physical or just a pap, I don't know whether the receptionist can tell me by looking at my file. (My dentist's receptionist can look at my file and tell me what my next appointment needs to be, but I don't know if that's common). Sometimes this confusion has resulted in my making a whole appointment for a five-minute conversation with the doctor, and I don't know if that's how they prefer to do things or if it's just a fuck-up on my part.

I want to get HPV vaccine, but I don't know if I qualify because of my age, but I don't know whether I might be able to trick them into giving it to me if I don't mention that I'm concerned about my age and just waltz in as though I'm entitled. I don't know if they already have information about when they'll be able to distribute the vaccine and the logistics thereof (i.e. do I need a consultation first? Do they have the vaccine on hand or do I need to pick up the prescription from the doctor and get it filled?)

I just hate having to be ignorant and demanding, and I want very much to take their operational requirements into account but I don't know how. I really wish someone would make a pamphlet or a web page or even just a rant in Customers Suck giving me some dos and don'ts for calling my doctor! (I've found a few pages related to specific diseases, or for parents of newborns, but nothing general)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I don't blame the evacuees for complaining

Some of the people who were evacuated from Lebanon complained about how the evacuation was carried out. Some other people have said that they should stop bitching and be grateful. Whatever did happen, I don't blame them for complaining. Why? Well, as I see it, there were two possibilities:

1. The conditions of the evacuation were unreasonable, even taking into account the fact that they were evacuating people from a war zone.
2. The conditions of the evacuation were reasonable in light of the fact that they were evacuating people from a war zone, but were still difficult.

(In this case, it's not possible for the conditions to be both reasonable and not difficult, or people would not be complaining.)

If the conditions were unreasonable, their complaining is obviously justified.

If the conditions were reasonable but difficult, these people have just spent several days in life-or-death uncertainty, with insufficient food, water, and hygiene, being herded around like cattle, having no privacy, feeling like their fate could be destroyed by a minor administrative error, and all the while a few very loud people in Canada are saying they don't deserve to be evacuated because their going to Lebanon is proof of their disloyalty. They're tired, hungry, thirsty, smelly, sweaty, frightened, uncertain, and nauseous, and they doubtless feel they have lost some of their dignity on the way. Then someone sticks a camera or a microphone or a tape recorder in their face and asks how they feel. Of course some people are going to complain! I'm sure almost anyone would be a bit edgy in that situation! No one who has ever road raged or raised their voice to a friend or family member or snapped at a food service worker because their burger wasn't coming fast enough has a right to call the evacuees ungrateful just because they complained about difficult conditions. Let's give them some room to have a hot shower, a good meal, a good night's sleep, a bit of alone time, and watch some of what's going on in Lebanon on TV before asking them to give their final opinion.

Some of the evacuees complained that there was no air conditioning and no medical care on the ships. Someone else (in either the Star's or the Globe's letters to the editor - the letter-writer may have represented the ship company but I'm not sure) said that they are luxury cruise ships, citing the fact that they have a disco and a night club or something similar. However, all the night clubs in the world don't make up for lack of air conditioning or medical care!

Therefore, I propose that to be declared "luxury", a venue must meet the following conditions:

1. Heating and air conditioning must be available to make the venue a comfortable temperature.
2. The venue must be entirely free of vermin. The scope of the word "vermin" is to be defined but the fussiest user.
3. Indoor plumbing, including any toiletries the users need, must be available.
4. A reasonable variety of food and drink, as well as medical, transportation, and maintenance services, must be available within a reasonable timeframe and with a single phone call.

I don't care if the whole thing is made of diamond-encrusted platinum, if there's no air conditioning in the summer it doesn't count as luxury. If the a/c is broken, it doesn't get to be luxury until it gets fixed.

Why introverts find social interaction draining

When I was googling information on introversion recently, I found a number of comments from extroverts who simply could not fathom how introverts can find social interaction draining. I've been mulling this over, and I think I can explain. However, it requires a triple analogy. Please note that this is for casual acquaintances and strangers only - the dynamic is somewhat different for intimates, as I'll explain after I've presented the analogies.

Picture how you'd feel in each of these situations:

1. You're not at all hungry, but you're in a situation where you're being offered food and it would be rude to refuse.
2. You're a performer in a musical theatre extravaganza, but you've only seen your own lines, score, and choreography, and haven't rehearsed at all.
3. You're engaging in a sex act that will give your partner an orgasm, but cannot possibly give you an orgasm.

Imagine experiencing all these feeling simultaneously, and you've got how an introvert feels when interacting socially with casual acquaintances and strangers.

I will elaborate:

1. Being offered food when you're not hungry

Maybe you're just standard "not hungry", maybe you've just finished a big meal and you're trying to figure out how to discreetly loosen your pants. At any rate, if you were left to your own devices it certainly wouldn't occur to you to seek out food, and if there were a plate of food in front of you, you'd have no particular need to take a nibble. However, you're in a delicate social situation where it would be rude to refuse, so you take some food. Maybe it's really good, maybe it's mediocre, maybe it's disgusting. Maybe you have a bite and you feel okay you didn't particularly need it, maybe it's just too much and the thought of taking more nauseates you, maybe it's surprisingly good and you wouldn't mind having more when you're hungry, but you're really kind of full now. Eating the food may be more enjoyable than you thought, or nauseatingly difficult, or just meh, but the fact is that you didn't need it, and if you hadn't been offered any food you wouldn't be missing it.

The food is social interaction. Introverts very rarely need social interaction. Personally, I don't start wishing for social interaction until I've gone about five days without any human contact, and then an hour on ICQ with a close friend will take the edge off so I can function. When I do have social interaction it may be good, bad, or neutral, and I may have the energy to handle it just fine or I may be absolutely exhausted and desperately looking for an out. If it's exceptionally good, I might come out feeling better, but if it's bad or neutral I'll come out feeling worse. Whatever the result, I didn't go into the situation needing or wanting social interaction, and if there had been no social interaction I wouldn't miss it.

2. You're on stage and you've only seen your part of the script

You've only seen your own lines, and don't know what your cues are going to be. You have the sheet music for your own songs, but you don't know if it's a solo or if you're in the chorus. You have your own choreography and stage directions, but you don't know who or what else is going to be on the stage. Oh, and the pages of all this material are not numbered, so you're not sure if you have it in the right order. You've never rehearsed - you don't even know what the plot is or who your character is - and then you're thrust on stage and you have to improvise.

Casual social interaction does not come naturally to introverts. Because I don't need it, I can't just apply "Do unto others," as my golden rule instincts are telling me that social interaction would be unwelcome. So, to produce the requisite small-talk, it's constant improvisation, constant self-monitoring, constant thinking on my feet. I have a small corpus to work with, but I have to stay on my toes and consciously decide how the material I have fits into my current situation. For example, here's my background train of thought as I ride the elevator with a colleague:

"The back of my bra is riding up - will anyone see if I pull it back down? What's she saying? Oh, she's mentioned that she moved. An appropriate follow-up question would be to ask her where she moved to. Oops, now I'm in the very front of the elevator and the people behind me will need to get off first. How can I tell who wants to get off first? Which way should I step? She moved to Brampton? Why would anyone move there? What do I say in response to that? Oops, sorry lady, didn't mean to stand right in front of you, I wasn't sure which way I was supposed to step. Brampton, no, I've never actually been to Brampton. What can I say now? What's Brampton like? Okay, if I stand over here in the corner and let her off the elevator first, then I can pull the back of my bra down before I leave the elevator."

And it's like this all the time, whenever I'm doing any social interaction. I can't just talk mindlessly, (I've heard that extroverts can - is that true?) I have to work at it.

3. You're doing a sex act that cannot possibly give you an orgasm

Maybe you enjoy giving your partner pleasure but you don't particularly care for the act itself, maybe you're doing it out of duty, maybe it's kind of fun although certainly not orgasmic. At any rate, your partner is going to have an orgasm, but you're not. It simply does not stimulate the areas that need to be stimulated to give you an orgasm. And, because of the complexity of the act, there is no way for you to apply a little bit of friction to help yourself along without neglecting your partner.

Social interaction gives extroverts what Marti Olsen Laney calls "Hap Hits" - brain chemical reaction thingies that make you feel good. (There's a far more grownup explanation in her book, but I never took psych or biology, so my understanding of the science falls just short of being able to explain it to others. It is somehow related to dopamine.) Introverts don't get this. Maybe I'm doing my social interaction out of duty, maybe I'm glad it's entertaining the other people, maybe it's even fun, but it is not going to give me Hap Hits. I get my Hap Hits from being alone, without too much stimulation, and just being able to think. I get into a sort of calm and happy place, and then I can mull things over and think of new ideas and spontaneously solve translation problems that are sitting on my desk at work. (If you've been reading a while, you've probably noticed my Things They Should Invent - they come from this happy introvert place. So did this intricate analogy.) However, I can't do this while engaging in social interaction, and I can rarely do it while out in public (unless I'm in a situation where I'm sitting quietly and am not required to interact with or be observed by others). Just talking to others or determining whether I need to talk to others or walking down a busy street without getting in anyone's way stimulates too much of my brain, and I can't get to my happy place because there's too much else going on. While social interaction gives extroverts their Hap Hits, it actually prevents me from getting mine. Which is fine, (after all, you can't be having an orgasm every minute of the day) but it's never actually going to be stimulating.

Added bonus analogy: Let's go back to the sex act that gives your partner an orgasm but cannot give you one:

Partner: Hey, you know what? You should have an orgasm while we're going this! It's a lot more fun that way!

You: I can't, this doesn't stimulate the right parts of my body. If we do something else I can have an orgasm, but not while we're going this.

Partner: Come on, you just need to make an effort! Anyone can have an orgasm while doing this if they only put their mind to it!

You: No, actually it's physically impossible for me to have an orgasm while we're doing this. See the how my body is positioned? See how your body is positioned? See how all the parts of both our bodies that could possibly stimulate me, as well as the bedposts and the sex toys and the various other bedroom accoutrements are all fully occupied with stimulating you, and cannot possibly be reassigned to stimulate me in a way that would lead to orgasm without ceasing to stimulate you and completely changing the nature of this surprisingly intricate sex act.

Partner: No, if I can have an orgasm while engaging in this specific sex act, anyone can, including you! It's all your fault that you're not - if you were less stubborn and more open-mined, you'd be having an orgasm to! In fact, how dare you not have an orgasm for the sole purpose of spiting me!

This is what it's like when extroverts try to convince introverts that they need to work at becoming more extroverted.

So, in summary: Under most circumstances, introverts have no particular need for social interaction, it's hard work that requires constant effort and doesn't allow us to let our guard down for a minute, and it doesn't give us Hap Hits and prevents us from doing things that do give us Hap Hits. Even if it is a pleasant social interaction, the net effect is still draining.

So how's it different for close friends?

1. I'm still not hungry, but my close friends are the food that I have cravings for. The closer the friend, the stronger the craving. If I'm on my period and I've had a rough day, I'm probably craving Lays Salt & Vinegar Chips, and I'll eat any available unless I'm painfully full. You're probably sitting there saying "But I'm good food too!" You may well be. Maybe you're the best sushi in the world. But I'm not craving sushi, I'm craving Salt & Vinegar. Maybe if I eat some sushi I'll start developing cravings for it, but most likely I won't since I have all the craveable foods I need, as I have all the friends I need. So as it stands, I'm full, so I don't want to eat your sushi - not even the best sushi in the world - because then I won't have any room for Salt & Vinegar (i.e. I'll be too tired and cranky to be civil company for mi cielito.)

2. I still don't know the plot of the play, but my close friends are very good at doing improv with me. We've performed together before and gotten quite used to each others styles. They know how to cue me without breaking character. If I mess up, they use their l33t impr0v sk1llz to smoothly incorporate my gaffes into the performance. You're probably sitting there saying "But I know how to improv too!" and I'm sure you do - I always depend on everyone else's improv skills to get me through the performance - but my friends and I have worked together longer and it's much easier for me to work with them.

3. I'm still not going to have an orgasm doing this, but mi cielito knows how to make me feel good. He knows certain ways to touch me that aren't orgasmic, but are still rather happy and tingly. He knows my secret fantasy scenarios. He knows that if we do this one thing before and this other thing after, I'll enjoy the nonorgasmic sex act a lot more. Similarly, my close friends know how to keep me from getting overwhelmed, they're used to my sense of humour and the way I think so I can just blurt out anything that comes to mind without having to worry about whether it's appropriate small talk, and I can back off or zone out as needed without having to worry that they'll get offended or start thinking something's wrong with me. You're probably sitting there saying "But I want to help make the social experience good for you too!" I'm sure you do, but you don't know how. Your intentions may well be good, you may well have had experience with other introverts, but you aren't used to me. Just as there's going to be a bit of fumbling around the first few times you have sex with a new lover, even the most well-intentioned interlocutor is not going to make the experience as pleasant for me as a good friend.

Most interaction with close friends is still draining, but they know how to make it pleasant enough that it's worth being drained. On very rare occasions, it can be not draining - that's why when I say "Being with mi cielito is just like being alone," it is the highest compliment - it means that he can overcome the most basic aspects of my neurology and make what is normally a draining experience into a stimulating experience.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Embryo adoption disgusts me

People should not be allowed to adopt embryos until there are no children waiting to be adopted. Why? Because embryos can wait. They're frozen. They can't feel pain or emotional distress. They don't know that they're just sitting there, parentless.

However, real-life children who have already been born and have not been adopted know that their birth parents didn't want them or couldn't take care of them, know that they don't have a forever home. Every day that they're not adopted is another day when they know that no one "really" wants them.

How on earth can a person, knowing that there are all these kids waiting for adoption out there, all of whom (except perhaps the very youngest) know that they're waiting for adoption, instead choose to adopt an embryo, which doesn't care whether it's adopted now or later and, even if it is never adopted and has to be destroyed, won't be able to feel any pain? Sickening.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


The good: Health Canada just approved the HPV vaccine

The bad: It's only approved for women up to the age of 26, and it's administered over the course of six months. I am 25 years and 7 months old :(

The question: How do I get around this?


Have you ever had someone who you didn't know very well, but really admired? Like everything they did seemed so incredibly cool, and you wanted to be like them when you grew up, and you thought they could handle any situation with complete sangfroid and aplomb?

Have you ever then seen them do something really stupid? Like incredibly, unbelievably stupid and distasteful? And you're just sort of there staring that them, aghast, agog, dumbfounded, thinking "But aren't you supposed to be better than that?"

That's how I feel about the current situation in the Middle East.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The greatest luxury ever

The air in my apartment is cool. I have no idea what the temperature is in here because I have the least accurate thermostat ever, but it is more comfortable than strictly necessary. I could wear long pants or have a hot shower or a cup of coffee or put a cover over myself to sleep, and I would still be perfectly comfortable.

If you asked me what my career goal is, this is it. This is why I work. This is why I put up with the early mornings and the traumatic texts and the boring texts and the tight deadlines and the impossible subject matter - so I can be cool and comfortable in obscene summer weather.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

New Rule

If you say "It's a privilege, not a right," about something that actually is a legal right, you forfeit that right during the next situation where you normally benefit from it.

Why I don't talk to strangers

The Globe and Mail's David MacFarlane laments the fact that people in Toronto do not engage with strangers.

Well, Mr. MacFarlane, I cannot speak for anyone else, but I'm going to explain why I, personally, do not initiate social contact with you, personally.

1. I'm not going to smile or make eye contact or initiate any socializing with you, personally, because you are a strange man. In my experience, strange men tend to take any smile or eye contact from a young woman as a sign of interest. I am taken and do not wish to lead anyone on. Perhaps you wouldn't misconstrue my overtures - perhaps you're happily married or happily gay - but I have no way of knowing that, and it's simply not worth the risk. My existing social circle serves all my social needs, so it's no inconvenience to me whatsoever if I lose out on a nice friendship or a decent acquaintanceship, but it is a significant inconvenience to me if a strange man thinks I'm interested when I'm not.

2. But let's take your observations into the abstract. Why don't I engage people in general? Mostly it's because I have no reason to. I have nothing productive or helpful or informative or interesting or amusing to say to the vast majority of people I encounter. There is simply no benefit that could come from my interrupting their daily activities and train of thought. If I feel a silence might be perceived as awkward, perhaps while waiting for the elevator or something, I'll make an attempt at small talk, but if I can't think of any decent small talk I'll keep my mouth shut rather than blabbling pointlessly. If there is something specific that you want me to say, ask me about it, and I'll answer as long as you don't come across as too creepy. (If you want me to chat with people my instincts say are creepy, that right there explains why people aren't engaging with you.) But honestly, I'm not sitting here full of twelve kinds of brilliant amusement that I'm witholding from you out of spite - I just cannot see any reason why a stranger would want to talk to me, so I don't go around imposing myself on strangers, instead letting them get on with whatever important things they're doing.

3. But maybe the average person is more interesting than me, and what they have to say might be of interest to random strangers. Do you want them to talk to everyone? I counted once - I cross paths with 100 people between my apartment and the subway. Then there's the a crowded subway car (where I'd really rather read), and I'd estimate anywhere from 10 to 50 people between the subway and my office, depending on the timing. I'm close to a good 10-20 people when I go to get my lunch (including elevator rides, waiting in line, etc.). If I go grocery shopping after work I enounter 50-100 people in the store, and then another 100 on the walk home from the store. And, being a creature of habit, I'd say at least 25% of these people are "regulars", whom I see quite often. That's a lot of people. Imagine trying to engage with that many people! Imagine how difficult it would be to go about your everyday life if that many people tried to engage with you! It's simply not feasible. The odds suck - that's simply a fact of city life. If you don't like that, you might be more comfortable in a small town.

In the meantime, if you want to know what I have to say, you can read my blog at your leisure. If you have some information you think I could use, feel free to tell me. If you need help and you think I can help you, feel free to ask. But, to the best of my knowledge, I have nothing to gain from engaging with you, nothing to contribute that makes it worth inconveniencing you, and dozens, if not hundreds of people just like you that I encounter every day. I am not talking to you because there is no benefit to anyone and it's quite likely inconvenient for everyone. If this is not the case, you must let me know on an ad hoc basis.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Clever multimedia crossover thingy of the moment

The plot in this week's Luann (start here and read forward) is playing out in parallel on MySpace - with audience participation!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Guardian Angels

I don't trust the Guardian Angels. I've been trying for several days to articulate why, but I'm afraid I can't get any more specific than "my instincts say so." My every instinct tells me that they are not to be trusted, that they (more the individuals than the organization) must have some ulterior motive. I've been doing research, reading all the news articles, and all I can come up with is the vagueness of their modus operandi.

1. Walk around in red outfits
2. ?????
3. Profit! Stop crime!

(Aside: I wear a lot of red and I live in a low-crime neighbourhood. Hmmm...) It seems to me that if their intentions were pure, they would be more specific about what exactly they do, how exactly they're going to stop crime.

However, this vague methodology is only part of why I don't trust them, and I can't seem to articulate the rest of it except to say that my every instinct is screaming that they are not to be trusted. If the Guardian Angels were a man sitting next to me on the subway, I would get off at the next stop and wait for the next train. If I saw them walking down the street, I would cross over to the other side. If they were walking behind me, I would duck into the next store that had security cameras. Essentially, their presence would make me feel less safe than I do now, but unfortunately I can't articulate this further except to say that it's coming from my "Gift of Fear" instincts, which have always served me well, are telling me so.

Fun fact

A number of times in my life, various people in various contexts have done something that I didn't like, or made me do something that I didn't like, and said "You'll thank me later."

So far, I have never felt thankful towards any of them.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Why I wouldn't want to become an extrovert

Googling for introversion, I stumbled upon a blog post asking if you would take a magic pill to become an extrovert if such a thing were available.

While I'll admit the magic pill would be convenient on an as-needed basis, mostly so I could network and stuff, the idea of being extroverted all the time is repulsive to me. Why? Because if I were extro, I'd get bored being alone in my apartment! That idea just seems so...ADD, so childish, so completely lacking in inner resources. I wouldn't think of any new ideas, because I would get bored with just sitting and thinking! That just doesn't seem like any kind of life I want to live.

Separated at birth?

Here we have Robert Novak (the guy on the right), who is apparently a conservative commentator in the US. I hadn't heard of him before, but he was in the newspaper today.

Here we have Chase Talbott III, a Doonesbury character who happens to be a gay conservative commentator.

Anyone else see the resemblance?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Here's the puppy commercial! My favourite is still the little guy who can't get up the stairs because he's too little!

How to destroy the men's scented toiletry industry

I find some recent advertising for men's scented toiletries un peu misogynist, so I came up with a simple plan to inflict ruin upon the entire industry. You know, just in case anyone has a bit of spare time on their hands or something. :)

Ladies: Your job is to familiarize yourself with the scents of the new men's toiletries that are constantly being advertised. Then when you smell that scent on a guy, you wrinkle your nose as though you've caught a whiff of something unpleasant, then slowly and casually back away from the wearer, as though you're trying to tactfully avoid him. Bonus points for casually asking "Did you come here straight from the gym?" at an appropriate time in the conversation. If the scent is on a guy with whom you already have an established relationship, reply to his overtures by asking if he'd like to freshen up a bit first. However, be completely responsive to his overtures, and initiate your own, if he's unscented at the moment. If you notice a scented toiletry product in among your gentleman friend's toiletries, casually pick up the bottle and smell it, then say "Oh, THAT'S what that smell is! I thought it was a BO problem [or, if you're feeling particularly daring, a bladder/bowel problem], but I couldn't think of how to bring it up tactfully!" Remember: no physical affection for scented men!

Gentlemen: Your job is much simpler. Familiarize yourselves with the scents, and then sashay up to anyone wearing those scents, and purr beguilingly "Why, whatever is that bewitching fragrance?"

At the drugstore: Are you in a store where these products are being sold? Are there people shopping for these products? Is there at least one man and at least one woman in your party? If so, then you walk up to the products under the pretence that one or more of the men in your party is shopping for a something that will make him smell sexy. Man: "Oooh, this is sexy! Smell it, what do you think?" Woman: "Ewww! Get that away from me!" [gags, turns green, covers mouth, holds nose, etc.]

The flaw in this plan is the ethically dubious use of heterosexism to combat misogyny. I have not yet decided whether this is justified by the fact that the misogyny is also heterosexist.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How do you not know that war is hell?

It's all over the news that the latest Canadian soldier to be killed was not happy with military life. Apparently they were overworked and undersupplied, and he didn't expect that.

How does that happen?

I'm not saying this to get all blamosaurus on the deceased, I just think we need to seriously examine how it happens that someone enters the military without knowing it's going to be hell.

Did he somehow never get exposed to the fact that it's hell? Never saw a rerun of MASH or any of the war movies produced within his lifetime? Glossed over WWI in his history class? Or did he have the idea that it's hell, and then get talked out of it by recruiters? Or was he just one of those over-optimistic people who insists on looking only at the bright side of everything and brushes off the negative?

What kind of situation leads to a grown adult not expecting military service to be hell, and how can we avoid that in the future?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Open letter to all Toronto businesses

Thank you for posting a list of store locations on your website. This is extremely helpful. Thank you also for sorting your list into pre-amalgamation communities - I'm sure this is also quite helpful to many people. However, can I ask one small favour? Under "Toronto", please list all the locations in post-amalgamation Toronto. Sure, go ahead, keep listing them under community name too, nothing wrong with a bit of redundancy, but I also want the option of seeing every location in post-amalgamation TO.

Because of the logistics of my day-to-day life, the most convenient location for me might be in either the old city of Toronto or in North York, so I have to look at two separate pages/maps/lists/whatever to find the most convenient locations; if the list is divided into smaller communities I also have to click on Willowdale and Downsview and Don Mills and East York. That's quite a bit of clicking to find the most convenient location. Show me the whole city at once, and let me decide from there.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


During today's shootout, on almost all the shots, the goalie dove one way and the ball went the other way. Obviously this happens sometimes because the kicker feints or something, but it seemed to happen with surprising frequency today.

I haven't been watching that much World Cup this year because most games happen while I'm at the office so I don't have that big of a corpus to draw on, but is this normal? Most of the games I watch involve Germany, and German goalkeepers seem to be drawn to the ball like a magnet. Are my German goalies just exceptionally good, or was today's shootout an example of exeptionally poor goalkeeping?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Further ponderings on sociolinguistics in service of customer relations

I mentioned briefly in my epic post below that I would often use younger vocal patterns when working in fast food, because my customers seemed more comfortable with that.

When I'm shopping, I find that I'm generally more comfortable with salesmen whom I perceive to be gay, rhan with salesmen whom I perceive to be straight. I tend to lower my shields in the presence of gay. And, rational or not, if I'm shopping for clothes or shoes and cosmetics and I don't perceive the salesman to be gay, my shields are going up to maximum. Accordingly, I have also noticed that when I'm shopping for clothes or shoes or cosmetics, the majority of salesmen do come across as gay.

I have only discussed this with a few other women, but among my small sample group there is 100% consensus that gay is preferable at best and neutral at worst. This would suggest that there might be some benefit for a man working in sales of products intended for women to come across as gay.

So I wonder how many of these men are actually gay, and how many are affecting some gay inflections to put their customers at ease? Salespeople smile and say "Can I help you" and are generally friendly to put their customers at ease, so why not also adopt an inflection or two?

Young speech markers

The Star has an article on markers of young speech and how people interpret them. As I have most of these verbal tics myself, and most often use them very deliberately to communicate something specific, I thought I'd provide a handy translation reference.

So/such: "This chocolate is so good." "This is such good chocolate."

So/such is stronger than very. So means it's so good I'm enthusiastic about it. It's so adjective that emotions are involved. "She's a very good translator" means just that - she is more competent than average, but I'm surrounded by above-average people so I'm not impressed. "She is so good at medical translation," or "She is such a good translator," means I am rather in awe of her abilities.

Like: There are several distinct uses here.

"He's like, 'Are you kidding?'"

The implication of the quotative like is that I'm doing more than just quoting. I'm sort of acting out the role of the person I'm quoting. The person in question may or may not have said those exact words "Are you kidding?" but that is quite obviously what he meant. When I "quote" him using the quotative like, I use the vocal inflections and facial expressions that correspond with his "Are you kidding?" If I were to utter the sentence "He said, 'Are you kidding?'" I wouldn't be animated - there would be no vocal inflection or facial expressions." Note that "He goes..." can be used interchangeable with "He's like,..." in this context.

"He's like..." can also be used when nothing was uttered, to describe what the individual would have uttered if they had spoken. "I shook the baby's hand, and he was like, 'OMG, what just happened?'" Whether or not there was actually an utterance is usually clear by context. "He was all..." can be used interchangeably with "He was like..." in this nonverbal context.

"He weighed, like, 300 pounds."

This has two possible interpretations: He weighs approximately 300 pounds, or he is just heavy and the speaker is exaggerating for effect. I will distinguish between the two with two more examples:

"It costs, like, 20 dollars." It might cost $18 or $23, I don't remember exactly. The "like" tells you that I'm giving you a ballpark. In this case, I'm not too impressed with the 20 dollars - I'm waving my hand dismissively as I say it, with the corresponding tone of voice. However, people might also use this when they're impressed. "Condos in that building start at, like, two million!" That's a lot of money, so I'm impressed. The like means that it's approximate, but it also serves as a bit of a dramatic pause before I give you the big number.

"Under normal circumstances, Harry Potter would make a good teenage boyfriend, but as it stands he's too busy being, like, the messiah." While Harry Potter is, literally, "like the messiah," that's not what I mean here. In this case, the "like" introduces hyperbole or sarcasm or irony or some other literary technique. It's done entirely with tone of voice, so it varies greatly selon context. In "He weighed, like, 300 pounds!" the speaker is probably exaggerating to make the point that he's heavy. The "like" itself doesn't do this - you also need tone of voice and context. Note that sometimes (but not always!) the "like" can be replaced by "all." The "like" has to be verbally offset with commas, the "all" does not. Example: "The only person I know who's going to be at that wedding is the bride, and she's going to be busy all getting married." OR "...she's going to be busy, like, getting married."

All of these uses are very deliberate - I am choosing to use the word "like" to contribute something to the connotations of my sentence. However, I also use it as a verbal tic when I'm nervous, the same way other people would use "um". If I'm using it as an "um", the flow of my sentence is interrupted (not by deliberate pacing decisions) and I'm probably waving my hands around a bit too. Please note that when I use "like" when I'm trying to think of a word, it isn't a sign of deficient vocabulary, but rather a sign of introvert brain. I most likely know the word, it just isn't coming to me. I couldn't tell you whether or not this fumbling use of like applies to other people or if it's just something I do.

Upspeak: "Hi, I'd like to open a new account?"

Upspeak isn't, in and of itself, a sign of insecurity. It could be described as seeking approval, but not in the way they mean in the article. It is, in fact, a request for acknowledgement. It means "Are you following me?" or "Please confirm that you understand what I've said so far, so I know whether I need to make clarification or whether I can proceed with my next point." It might also mean I expect you to take the lead in the transaction - like if I've just walked into your bank and asked to open a new account. If I'm uncertain about my point, I'll make it clear to you by using words to that effect. If the tone of my speech rises towards the end of the sentence, it just means I am expecting you to say or do something, and am putting my next sentence on hold until I get the expected reaction. If I am actually feeling insecure, I am more inclined to control my upspeak, although I will still use it to request acknowledgement when necessary.

I'm likely to use a lot of upspeak if I'm trying to explain something to someone step by step. For example:

"So you look behind your toilet? And there's a pipe going from the wall to the toilet tank? And this pipe has a horizontal component and a vertical component? Now see the joint where the horizontal and the vertical meet? There's a nut on the vertical section, right at the joint? Now, are there any signs of damage on that nut?"

Some of these are questions, but most are requests for acknowledgement. I'm not going to go through the whole spiel unless I know that you're looking at your toilet and following what I'm saying. I'm absolutely confident in my description - I had a problem with that very part just last week - but I don't want to be asking you if the nut is damaged when you're still trying to locate the pipe I mean. A more pedestrian example of this is how I give my phone number: "416? 555? 1234." I upspeak the first two sections to make sure the person has them written down before I proceed to the next section.

So why would I use these speech markers when I know that older people take them as a sign of ditziness? I can circumlocute them in most cases (although I cannot entirely eliminate upspeak as a request for acknowledgement), but I often choose not to, for a number of possible reasons:

1. I'm comfortable around my interlocutor, so I'm acting naturally.
2. The situation requires deference on my part. I often made my voice and mannerisms more youthful when I was in working in fast food, because customers in that area seemed to have a need to feel superior to their local fast-food workers, and seemed to subconsciously take offence when I used my natural mannerisms. I also use youthful mannerisms in combination with puppy-head-tilt-confused question-asking when someone who "outranks" me is dead wrong, but it would be impolitic for me to say "You're wrong." Passive-aggressive, but effective. Luckily I'm still young enough to get away with this - I'll need a different strategy for when I get older.
3. I am ignorant, and want to exaggerate that fact. I often do this when dealing with things that I do not fully understand when I wish to maintain my interlocutor's goodwill. For example, I use this strategy when I have to call my superintendant on an emergency basis but I'm not 100% sure whether the problem requires immediate attention. "Sorry to bother you, but I have no idea how to fix it or what to do next! Oh, it's not a big emergency? I'm terribly sorry, I don't know anything about plumbing, I had no way of knowing!" My super is more likely to be forgiving about this when it's clear I'm ignorant but well-intentioned. If I eliminated all my youthful speech patterns when making this request, I'd come across as rather demanding, which isn't how I want to be perceived when I've just disturbed the super during off-hours. Same thing goes when I'm trying to get my dentist to explain the proposed treatment plan for the third time.
4. I am attempting to develop a rapport with my interlocutor by speaking to them as I do to a friend. This is the same idea as the customer-service theory that tells people to smile and address the customer by their first name. Just as I call my friends and contemporaries by their first name (and tutoyer them when speaking non-English languages), I use youthful speech patterns without hesitation. By doing so with my elders, I'm attempting to strengthen relationships by drawing them in as co-conspirators. I use this as a networking tool, just as I'd share a humorous anecdote or forward an interesting website.

Friday, July 07, 2006

How to make World Cup more interesting

France and Italy are in the World Cup final.

France and Italy both traditionally wear blue uniforms.

They have prepared for this eventuality and there are variations on the uniforms available so they will be sufficiently differentiated, but I don't think they should do this. I think they should both be blue, and be somewhat difficult to tell apart - just as an extra bit of challenge. They're both obviously very good, so let's add this little something extra to shake things up a bit.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


I just discovered I can sing one note while whistling another note, providing I sing "Doo doo doo" and not actual words (so as to keep my mouth in a whistling position).

This would be incredibly cool if I were physically capable of whistling more than one different note, but unfortunately I can only whistle one note, and can't even change that while I'm not simulataneously singing.

A simple solution to a problem that does not exist in reality

Star Trek often has plots about whether artificial life forms (like androids, clones, holograms, etc.) should have human* rights, or whether they should be considered objects or property.

I have a simple test for this:

Any lifeform that has a sufficiently sentient to come up with the idea that it should have human rights, is therefore sentient enough to deserve human rights.

*Yes, I realize that in Star Trek many of the life forms with human rights aren't humans, but I don't know what the standard phrase is in the 24th century. My terminology database doesn't come with time travel capabilities.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A research project for the Freakonomists

Freakonomics mentions in passing that in Switzerland, every adult male is issued an assault rifle for the purposes of militia service, and they are permitted to keep them at home. They then mention that Switzerland has a low gun crime rate, but don't go into the details because they're more focusing on the US.

This raises a serious question though: every adult male has an assault rifle in their home. So what about women? Are single women more likely to be victims of crime than in other countries? Do robbers scan the death ads looking for new widows to rob after the militia comes and takes away their late husband's assault rifle? Are women more likely to seek out male roommates? Do single mothers encourage their adult sons to continue living at home? Are women more likely to go straight from their husband's house to their father's house? How does this affect domestic violence? How does this affect gang violence? Do men with disabilities that prevent them from serving in the militia also get an assault rifle? If not, are they more likely to be victims of crime? Can women serve in the militia if they choose? Can they get a free assault rifle anyway, just to even things up?

Perhaps the omnipresence of firearms does help reduce gun crime overall - Freakonomics doesn't make it clear whether this was cause and effect or just correlation, and I'm in no position to speculate - but how does it affect crime against those who don't or are unlikely to have a firearm in the home?

MIlitary atrocities: the big questions

The big questions we need to ask about military atrocities, inspired by this post from We Move To Canada.

To what extent is the military an attractive job to the kind of person who would commit atrocities, and to what extent does military training and culture create the kind of people who would create atrocities? Or does the military contain the same proportion of atrocity-inclined people as the general population, and simply provide them with more opportunities to create atrocities?

If atrocity-inclination is a result of training and/or culture, what aspects of training/culture produce this, and what purpose do these aspects serve (i.e. why are they there in the first place)? How can the military fill the need that is currently filled by these atrocity-producing aspects without encouraging atrocities?

If atrocity-inclination is a result of recruits' personalities going in, how can military training and culture supress or remove this aspect of their personalities?* Does the military benefit from this aspect of their personalities, or is it a liability for them? If the military does benefit, how can they retain the benefits while removing the atrocity-inclination?

If military people are more inclined to atrocities than the general population, do they retain this once they return to the general population? Do they commit atrocities (likely on smaller scale due to circumstances) when in the general population? If so, how can they be reintegrated so they can function normally in civilian society without wanting to commit atrocities (not that civilian society deserves more protection from atrocities than people in war zones - atrocities are atrocities - but I have a feeling that separate approaches might be needed because they are such different environments).

*According to a course I took on institutional environments, taught by an ex-servicemember who was also an academic authority on the subject, the purpose of military training is to break down the recruit's own personality, and then build them back up as the kind of person that the military wants them to be.** This is why I do not think it is unreasonable to expect military training to be able to change recruits' personalities.

**Further questions, unrelated to the topic of atrocities: what is the self-esteem level of new recruits like? I don't claim to have the healthiest self-esteem in the world, but what I find most unappealing about the idea of boot camp (apart from the usual conflicts with my pacifist ethics and phobic sensibilities) is that it is so dehumanizing. I have no desire to work for any organization that would treat me with anything less than basic human respect. If I wanted to be abused and treated like garbage, I'd go back to middle school. So what are people thinking when they willingly signed up to be abused into submission? Do they think themselves so worthless that they deserve to be treated like that? Do they think themselves so great that they won't be treated like garbage? Do they dissociate? Are they already the kind of personality that the military wants them to be?

Monday, July 03, 2006


This has nothing to do with anything, I was just doing the dishes and suddenly thought of a way to articulate a concept I was trying to explain a long time ago, but couldn't find the words.

Some people say that women find confidence attractive in men. I can't speak for other women, but I personally don't agree - I find that if there's enough confidence to be noticeable, it's generally a sign that the guy is a cocky asshole.

There's a certain amount of confidence required to go about everyday life and to do everyday things. This standard amount of confidence is unremarkable, because it's simply enough to function without difficulties. Because it is unremarkable, we don't notice it, just as we don't notice when a person has the physical ability to walk down the street carrying their purse. However, we do notice if a person has more confidence or less confidence than this standard amount, just as we notice if a person is physically incapable of walking, or if they're an amazing athlete and are walking twice as fast as everyone else while carrying a couch or something.

So when we notice how confident someone is and think "Wow, he sure is confident," that means he has significantly more confidence than is required for everyday life. In my personal experience, this extra confidence tends to manifest itself in a sense of entitlement, which seems to translate into a lack of consideration or thoughtfulness for others. (Fun fact: Roget's Thesaurus judges overconfidence even more harshly.) Being inconsiderate or thoughtless is not something I want in a mate, or a friend, or an acquaintance, or a person in my general vincinity, so when someone is confident enough that I notice their confidence, I take that as a sign that I should turn away.

While regular everyday functional confidence is certainly a convenient thing to have in a mate (or a friend, or an acquaintance, or a person in my general vincinity), it is so...default that I would never think to list it among things I find attractive, like how I'd never think to mention that I find it attractive when people have both their eyes, even though I am utterly, viscerally, irrationally repulsed by the thought of empty eye sockets and therefore would never consider pursuing a relationship (in the broadest sense of the word) with someone who was missing an eye.

Biking on the road

Many people don't like it when people ride bikes on the sidewalk, and say they should ride on the road instead. The law generally supports this.

But what about children?

Obviously, no one would think it's reasonable to have a four-year-old on training wheels, or a six-year-old who's just got her training wheels off, riding on the street, and only the crummiest curmudgeon would begrudge them use of the sidewalk. And obviously a 16-year-old should be on the road just like an adult, and if they were on the sidewalk everyone would go into Kids These Days mode.

But where's the dividing line?

I seem to recall that I was riding solo on residential side streets at the age of 10 or so, but I don't know when I started learning. I've never been fully comfortable with busier streets, although riding on the sidewalks of those streets would be terribly inconsiderate because the sidewalks are equally busy. (Unless you're in, like, Meadowlands, and then there's no one on the sidewalks anyway. But the SUVs would probably yell at you to get a car, because they're so threatened by non-cars. But I digress.)

Personally, I have felt threatened by way more cars while biking on the street than by bikes while walking on the sidewalk, so I have no problem with people biking on the sidewalk - so I'm inclined to lean in the direction of staying on the sidewalk for longer. But at what age does conventional wisdom imbue people with the responsibility of biking on the road at all times?

Mmmmm, biblioteka! (aka: the most unnecessary act of translation ever)

Being the geek that I am, I have translated spoken part of the French baguette commercial into Polish. My computer can't do Polish diacritics (not even with ASCII codes), so if you can actually read Polish, you'll have to fill in the blanks with your imagination.

Dzien dobry
Nazywam sie Bill
Gdzie jest Pierre?
Pierre jest w lazienki
Pracuje w dyskoteki
Niech otwiera okno, bezplatny!
Sok maliny!
Mmmm, biblioteka!

Open challenge: translate this text into the language of your choice, and post it on your blog. If you don't understand the French, I'll provide an English translation upon request.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Proof that if there is a god, it is not benevolant

Lightning is beautiful and dangerous.

Thunder is just loud and useless.

Lightning comes before thunder.

If the universe were really created by a benevolant, omniscient deity, the thunder would come first, to so we would have a warning of the approaching lightning. That way, we could look out the window to see the cool lightning and/or protect ourselves from the danger. As it stands, the lightning is over in, literally, a flash, and then there's some useless noise that only serves to frighten dogs. A truly considerate deity would have made the thunder come first.

Poetry reading

Imagine the poem "This Is Just To Say," by William Carlos Williams, being read aloud by Alan Rickman, using his Severus Snape voice.


Do cranes have lightning rods? Right now, the tallest thing in a one-block radius is a crane.

The problem with poor judgement

I hate it when people who are supposed to be smart show poor judgement, because that puts me in a terribly awkward position. You see, I've always found it terribly insulting to be told the obvious, as though I were completely incapable of anticipating natural consequences. "Drive carefully!" Well golly, I never thought of that! Here I was planning to drive recklessly! "Put some ice on it!" Wow, good idea, and to think I was going to fix it by running a marathon! "Drink plenty of fluids and get a good night's sleep!" Oh really? And I always thought the solution was to stay awake and dehydrated!

Because I so dislike being told the obvious, I try my very best not to tell other people things they should already know, unless I am absolutely certain that they don't actually know for whatever reason. It does sometimes occur to me to tell people obvious things, but I try very hard to bite my tongue, as a gesture of respect. In the same vein, whenever someone who I know is smart enough to anticipate the consequences is preparing to do something for which I can see potential negative consequences, I do my very best not to nag them about these consequences, trying instead to assume that, being the intelligent person they are, they have obviously thoroughly assessed the situation and have determined it to be an acceptable risk. I do this because it is how I want other people to treat me, and I don't want to go around treating other people in a manner that I would consider disrespectful if I were treated that way.

Because of all this, I HATE it when someone who is smart and competent and should be able to anticipate and weigh consequences doesn't do so, especially when they're someone who is so smart and competent that I generally should defer to them in everyday matters. This makes me feel like I should have pointed out the consequences, even though I would have considered it insulting to do so. Then, in the future, whenever I see obvious potential consequences to their actions, I'm left wondering if I should point them out. On one hand, they have shown a track record of not being able to anticipate consequences. On the other hand, if they have already anticipated these consequences, I consider it insulting and disrespectful to point them out.