Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Quebec as a nation

Quebec wants to be recognized as a nation (or rather, une nation), and certain parts of English Canada are freaking out about this.

You know what? This is just a translation problem. The scope of the English word "nation" is slightly different from the scope of the French word nation, and the predominate connotations of the two words are different. (If you can't wrap your brain around how two words that are written identically can have slightly different meanings, start here and fine-tune your sensibilities.) However, because the difference is rather subtle, the best one-word English translation of une nation continues to be the English word nation. It's just the primary connotation of the French nation is one of the rarer, secondary connotations of the English word nation.

The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of nation:

I. A people or group of peoples; a political state.
1. a. A large aggregate of communities and individuals united by factors such as common descent, language, culture, history, or occupation of the same territory, so as to form a distinct people. Now also: such a people forming a political state; a political state. (In early use also in pl.: a country.)

b. of (also by) nation: by nationality. of nation: of the nationality specified. Obs.
c. A group of people having a single ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation, but without a separate or politically independent territory.
Freq. used of the Jewish people in the Diaspora.
d. With the: the whole population of a country, freq. in contrast to a smaller or narrower body within it.

Le Petit Robert's definition of nation:

- 1. Vieilli (sens primitif de natio). Groupe d'hommes auxquels on suppose une origine* commune.
- 2. Mod. Groupe* humain, généralement assez vaste, qui se caractérise par la conscience de son unité et la volonté de vivre en commun.

- 3. Groupe humain, en tant qu'il forme une communauté politique, établie sur un territoire défini ou un ensemble de territoires définis, et personnifiée par une autorité souveraine.

- 4. Ensemble des individus qui composent ce groupe.
- 5. Dr. et cour. «Élément de l'État constitué par le groupement des individus fixés sur un territoire et soumis à l'autorité d'un même gouvernement» (Capitant).

My idiomatic translation of the Petit Robert definition:

- 1. Archaic. A group of men [translation note: in the old-fashioned sense where "man" is used to mean "people"] who are presumed to have a common origin.
- 2. Modern. A generally rather sizeable group of people who are characterized by self-identifying as united and having the desire to live as a community.

- 3. A group of people, forming a political community, which lives in a defined territory or a group of defined territories, and is respresented by a sovereign authority.

- 4. The individuals who compose this group.
- 5. Legal and courts. The element of the State constituting a group of individuals living in a given territory and subject to the authority of the same government.

As you can see, the idea of a country is far more predominant in the English definition, and the idea of a shared culture and heritage is far more predominant in the French definition. In French, if they want to communicate the idea of a country, something separate from Canada, with its own flag and its own seat at the UN, they'd be more likely to use a word like pays (country) or État (State). These words have the meaning that English-speakers tend to read into "nation", but the word nation alone does not.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The literary advantages of Hogwarts

The advantage of the Harry Potter series being set in a school is that Harry is learning magic along with the reader, so the reader gets to know the limits of magic in this universe, especially the limits of the protagonist's magical skills.

In any fictional universe where the characters have access to magic (or extremely advanced technology), it needs to have limits. Cinderalla has to be home at midnight. The Starship Enterprise can't beam people up when its shields are up. You can't apparate or disapparate at Hogwarts. If the magic doesn't have limits, everyone is omnipotent, and then there's no plot potential at all.

Since Harry came into school with no magical knowledge, we get to watch him learn magic. JK Rowling is kind enough to show us every lesson that is germane to the plot, so we know more or less exactly how much relevant magic Harry knows. It makes for much better literature when the reader goes into plot climax knowing the protagonist's limitations, rather than having no idea what is and is not possible, and I don't know if it would be feasible to do this if we had first met Harry as a full-grown wizard.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How to talk about veils without becoming a hypocrite or an asshole

The fact that some people wear veils has suddenly become an issue of debate lately. I find this rather petty and unbecoming public debate, but since it's out there anyway, here's a quick thought exercise to use to avoid becoming a hypocrite or an asshole when discussing this subject.

1. Recognize the fact that, in addition to whatever religious or cultural connotations it holds, a veil also has a functional purpose: it is an item of clothing that is intended to cover part of the body.

2. Using an item of clothing that you, personally, use to cover part of your body that you want to keep covered, create an analogy for the statement you're about to make. The analogous item of clothing doesn't have to be the same each time, but it should be something that you, personally, would conceivably wear. If your statement holds in analogy, then chances are good that you can make your statement without being a hypocrite or an asshole.

Some examples of fruitful trains of thought result from this exercise:

- Do you think a Muslim father should have the right to forbid his daughter from leaving the house without a veil? Do you think a Western father should have the right to forbid his daughter from leaving the house in a short skirt?

- Do you think it's appropriate to forbid people from wearing veils to work or as part of their school uniform? Do you think it's appropriate for a workplace or school to institute a dress code that makes a short skirt mandatory, with no option of wearing pants or a longer skirt?

- Do you think it was appropriate for Jack Straw to ask people to remove their niqabs before coming into his office to talk to him? If I went to meet with him wearing a camisole under a suit jacket, do you think it would it be appropriate for him to ask me to remove my jacket?

- Do you think a veil is unprofessional? If I wore a suit with long pants because I don't want to show my legs, even though most women in similar positions wear skirt suits, would you think that is unprofessional?

- Women in Ontario are allowed to walk around without their heads covered; women in other parts of the world are required to cover their heads. Do you think that makes it unfeminist for a woman to cover her head in Ontario? Women in Ontario are allowed to walk around without their breasts covered; women in other parts of the world are required to cover their breasts. Do you think that makes it unfeminist for a woman to cover her breasts in Ontario?

Monday, October 23, 2006


When people are trying to decide what to name their children, they get these books of names so they can look up the meaning of any names they might consider.

That's weird if you think about it. The meaning of your name is, well, meaningless IRL. I know what my name means because I looked it up once, but I can't tell you what anyone else's names mean. My life has been affected, for better or for worse, by my name's commonness, demographic connotations, and misleading grammatical implications in other languages. But the meaning? No effect whatsoever.

Things you can't or won't give up

I was reading this Ask Amy column, and one of the comments she made piqued my interest.

Context: a lady wrote in about her husband's drinking:

My husband is a great provider and a loving father. He is a good husband. His only bad trait is his drinking. By his standards, he is not an alcoholic. His drinking never interferes with his job. He never puts anyone in danger by driving drunk, and I seem to be the only person who is bothered by it (and I have been bothered by it for more than 20 years). He once tried to quit cold turkey but only at my insistence.

He has refused chemical dependency counseling because he is "not an alcoholic." He drinks only at home (doesn't go to bars). He says that I should let it be because he has always been a heavy drinker and doesn't feel that he needs to change. It disgusts me when he drinks. My attitude completely changes. I hate myself for feeling disgust toward him.

Amy, who eventually directs the reader to Al-Anon, begins her reply with:

Getting hung up on whether or not your husband fits his definition of an alcoholic won't help either of you deal with this issue. Clearly, your husband has a drinking problem. I know that because his drinking causes a problem in your relationship and because he can't - or won't - stop.

He can't or won't stop. That piqued my interest. Now obviously, we, the readers, don't have the full story here. We don't have examples of specific behaviours that make the wife dislike her husband's drinking. We don't have quantitative measures of how much he drinks. Obviously there's a lot of room for the possibility that the husband does have a drinking problem. Actuarially speaking, he probably does. But with the information presented in the letter, there is also a bit of room for the possibility that the husband's drinking isn't a problem, and it simply bothers the wife unreasonably. She does say that it doesn't affect his work and he doesn't drive drunk, and that she's the only person who seems to be bothered by it. The possibility is there that his behaviour is reasonable and she is unreasonably bothered by it.

But, regardless of how much he drinks, regardless of how reasonable or not her desire for him to stop may be, he can't or won't stop, and apparently that makes it a problem. But is it really?

Think of something perfectly innocent in your own life that you'd be unable or unwilling to give up. The first thing that comes to mind, for me, is cheese, followed closely by pasta and tomato sauce. If I tried to give them up, I wouldn't be able to sustain it. They're just too yummy and too readily available, and they make me too happy. When I have to go a long time without cheese, pasta, and tomato sauce, I get terribly cranky. When I'm hungry, that's the first thing I crave unless I've already eaten some that day. If some really compelling reason to give it up presented itself I could certainly give it a try, but I would fail. I would fall off the wagon into a giant plate of spaghetti. I simply cannot stop eating my pasta and there is no way I could go the next ~75 years and never taste cheese again.

Does that mean it's an addiction? Does that mean it's a problem? Or does that just mean it's a favourite food?

Do you have something like this? Something that you just could not give up, and if you tried you know it wouldn't succeed? Potato chips? Pork chops? Peaches? Or perhaps it isn't a food? A long sleep-in on Saturday mornings, for example? Playing fetch with your dog? Your morning yoga? Your regular hair appointment? Church? Book club? Lost? The daily newspaper? Your favourite music?

Or maybe a glass of wine with dinner?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Things I have dreamed recently

1. I dreamed I was a diplomat in charge of brokering peace in North Korea. There were four "tourist hotels", and each of the four parties involved in the negotiations (yes, I know there's six IRL, but I'm not a diplomat IRL either) was in a different hotel. However, no one was allowed to leave their assigned hotel, so we had to resort to elaborate subterfuge that reminded me of an episode of Hogan's Heroes I once saw to conduct our negotiations. Also, all the people who worked in the hotel claimed to speak English, but they didn't. They just spoke to us in Korean and told us it was English (no, I don't know how I knew they were telling us it was English.)

2. I dreamed I stumbled upon an Eaton's store that was operating under the radar - they had forgotten to send someone around to close it when Eaton's shut down, and they kept quietly operating in an unmarked storefront in the Toronto Eaton Centre, hoping the authorities wouldn't find them out. Everything sold in this store was perfect - the household goods met my needs exactly, the clothing fit me perfectly and could not have possible been more flattering, even the greeting cards were perfect for whomever I had to send greeting cards to. But I couldn't tell anyone about it, or the authorities would come and shut them down.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Subway sociology

On the subway home, there was a big puddle of liquid on one of the seats. It looked like someone had spilled a large double-double there. It was really interesting watching how people reacted to it. Everyone had exactly the same body language when they walked up to the seat. "Oh, there's an empty seat, I'll just..WHOA don't want to sit there!" It was exactly the same for everyone! Also, people standing in the area sort of adopted a position that would make it more difficult for someone to sit in that seat. I don' tknow if it was conscious or if they were just subconsciously adapting to the new definitions of "avilable standing space", but it was almost like they were sentries protecting people from the puddly seat. I would have taken pictures if I had a camera (and could have taken pictures surreptiously, so as not to affect the behaviour of the natives in their natural environment.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Here's my plan, someone tell me if it's illegal

I want to give any TDSB students who stumble upon this blog a say in their school board trustee. My plan is to invite TDSB students to leave me comments on which trustee candidate they prefer, and then cast my vote for the candidate that gets the most "votes" in my blog.

I would implement measures to verify (insofar as possible, without compromising students' privacy) that the post are actually coming from students and not candidates or outsiders.

Would I be breaking any election laws if I did that?

Things They Should Invent: allow students to vote for school board trustees

I've been debating whether or not I should vote for a school board trustee. I can convince myself that it's my duty, and I can also convince myself that it's inethical for me to do so.

Then I realized that the people who should really be voting for trustees are the students themselves. Yes, the parents can vote for who they think is best, but the students should really have a say! I know you can't expect a kindergartener to vote, but a high school student would certainly be capable of it. It's their education, they really deserve a say - certainly more than a CFer like myself!

Actually, that gives me an idea, which I'll make another post for.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The trials and tribulations of owning a Swiss army knife in a post 9/11 world

I just noticed that my Swiss army knife is on my desk. My first thought was "I'd better put it away." But where do I put it? My standard practice used to be to toss it in my purse in case I need it, but what with every-changing security protocols, it could be confiscated at any time on the grounds that it could be used as a weapon. Better to put it away somewhere in the apartment. (I've only ever used it at home anyway.)

But where in the apartment does a Swiss army knife belong? Knives go in the kitchen, but this isn't really a kitchen knife. In the desk? No, not quite. In a dresser or nighttable? No, that's weird. I don't own any camping or outdoor gear, so I have no natural place to put a Swiss army knife. And so it sits, cluttering up my desk.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

New Rules (advice-giving edition)

1. People who don't have oily skin/hair aren't allowed to give skin/hair care advice to people who do have oily skin/hair, unless it falls within the purview of their professional duties.

2. People who have very little body hair aren't allowed to give body-hair-grooming advice to people who have a lot of body hair, unless it falls within the purview of their professional duties.

3. If you're ever giving advice, it must fall within the parameters established by the request for advice. For example, if the question is "How can we get from Point A to Point B if no one in our party can drive?", "Rent a car for the day" is not an appropriate answer. If the question is "How can I dispose of this mirror without breaking it?", "Just throw it in the dumpster and don't worry about breaking it" is not an appropriate answer. If the question is "How can I make my hairdo hold for 8 hours, given that I won't have a chance to fix my hair during that time?", "Surely you'll have a moment to duck into the bathroom and fix your hair!" isn't an appropriate answer. If you want to give advice that falls outside of the parameters of the request, you must first give advice that falls within the parameters of the request. So for the hair question, you could say "Well, your best bet would be to French-braid it and spray it with Acme Hair Product. But if you do happen to get a moment to duck into the bathroom, you could also do X, Y, and Z."

Deep thoughts on politics

From a purely superficial point of view, Michael Ignatieff looks like an evil version of Dalton McGuinty.

Friday, October 13, 2006

YAY municipal politics!

I'm very happy, because this time around there's a viable challenger for my city councillor. Last time around their wasn't. I agree with only about half of my councillor's policies, and this year the challenger has some positions that go in direct opposition to some of the incumbent's, so I'm looking quite forward to this.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


It snowed today! Only a few flakes and it didn't stick, but it was in fact snow! A bit early this year, methinks.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Does Lynn Johnston not read the newspapers?

Pssst, For Better or For Worse team, there are no cameras in Ontario courtrooms! Yes, they've talked about it, but it hasn't happened yet. Besides, the anonymity of sexual assault victims is always protected, so they wouldn't be filming Elizabeth anyway.

I'm surprised that Lynn Johnston didn't know this. I picked it up just from following the news - I didn't have any specialized or professional knowledge - so you'd think that someone old enough to be my mother would know it by now.

My deep, intellectual thoughts on the situation in North Korea

Remember the episode of Seinfeld where George accidentally buys women's glasses?

I think Kim Jong-Il is wearing the exact same glasses.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Brilliant Ideas that will Never Work: how to stop torture from being used in interrogation

Inspired by something I read in a novel a long time ago:

If you're ever being interrogated, tell them the truth, as minimally as possible. However, the instant they start mistreating you, start feeding them massive quantities of information that is 90% false and 10% true. Everyone in the world needs to do this for it to work.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

On kids and chores

The Globe and Mail has had an ongoing discussion in its letters to the editor regarding kids and chores. My parents tried a number of different chore strategies when I was a kid. Some were very effective, some were very ineffective. But I haven't seen any of the lessons learned from these experience coming up in the G&M discussions, so I'm posting them here. As always, I am not a parent, I am not a child development expert, but I do remember distinctly my thoughts and emotional reactions at the time, so I'm using my adult articulateness to express my child-self's intellectual and emotional responses to various situations. This isn't about how children should react, this is about how one child did react. If it's inconsistent with what your parenting books say, that's because my child-self hadn't read any parenting books and was simply working with her own intellectual and emotional reactions. Note also that I grew up in a two-parent home, so I can't speak to what, if any, of this is applicable in one-parent homes.

Things to keep in mind when assigning chores to kids:

1. Let the children see both parents doing chores. Even if you have a stay-at-home (SAH) parent in the house, they should both be doing chores. If the working-outside-the-home (WOH) parent isn't seen doing chores, that gives the kids the message that the chores are the SAH parent's job. If they attempt to make the kids do chores anyway, especially if the WOH parent attempts to enforce it, that comes across as a double-standard to the kids. After all, they've had a long day at school, just like the parent has had a long day at work! It just comes across as smug and bossy, like the WOH parent thinking they're the emperor and the kids are all their little slaves or something and makes the kid even less inclined to do chores.

2. If you never do a certain chore, you have no credibility when it comes to that chore. For example, if Mom always does the vacuuming and Dad is never seen vacuuming, Dad has no credibility to tell the kid they're vacuuming wrong or that the vacuuming needs to be done. Again, it just comes across as smug and bossy and makes the kid even less inclined to do chores. If you want to be able to "manage" your kid when they do chores, then you should be seen doing similar chores. If you don't want to do those chores, then you should yield their supervision to your co-parent. The same effect is created when one parent tries to reassign chores normally done by the other parent. For example, my father never did dishes. Once my mother had jury duty, so he told my sister and me that we had to do the dishes, so my mother wouldn't have extra work to do after a long day of jury duty. That came across as complete and total bullshit - if my father really cared about my mother not having to do extra work, then he would have done the dishes himself! Instead it came across like he took great pleasure from bossing us around and sitting there smugly while we worked. (Aside: to this day, both my sister and I consider doing dishes as one of the most dreaded chores.) However, if our mother had asked us herself, said "Listen, I have a long day of jury duty ahead, so could you girls help me out and take care of the dishes?" then it would have felt like helping our mother out. But as presented by our father, who never did dishes, it came across as a power trip on his part and degrading to us.

3. Don't be arbitrary! The chores should make sense to the child! Having the kid water the lawn and then cut the lawn doesn't make sense, especially since the kid didn't get a say in whether or not your household has a lawn in the first place. They should also be related to the aspects of household life that the child enjoys and benefits from (by the kid's own definition) - the kid should have some reason to care whether or not the chore gets done. Having them clean the bathroom that they use makes good sense. Having them weed the garden, when the garden just grows big smelly rutabegas that they hate anyway and takes away a perfectly good corner of the back yard that they could use for 3rd base if the rutabegas weren't there, makes no sense. Having them dust the A/V cabinet makes good sense, assuming they watch TV sometimes. Having them dust the shelf full of ceramic figurines that they aren't allowed to play with doesn't make sense. Conversely, if the chore in question affects no one but the child, allow the child to do it to their standards. Let them keep their room as messy as they want, barring infestation (because infestation would affect the rest of the household). Think about how you do your own chores as an adult - if you think it's important that the chore get done, you do it. If you don't think it's that important, you don't do it. You weigh your own priorities and see that yeah, this is a busy week, so I'll make sure there's food in the fridge and the garbage gets taken out, but I won't wash the windows this week. Now imagine how it would feel in those circumstances if someone kept nagging you to wash the windows, when they could very well do it themselves if they cared that much!

4. Think about your priorities. If household logistics require that the kids take on some of the load, explain that to them. Don't use any trite and abstract "because we're a family and that's what families do," or "because you have to contribute to this household." Just explain to them that items W, X, Y, and Z need to get done in the evening after work and school, so their job is to do X. And if they really don't want to do X, let them choose whether they'd rather do W, Y, or Z. If household logistics don't require your child's participation but your priority is to make sure they know how to do things, present it that way. However, in these cases, it might not make sense to the child to have to do it over and over each day or week once they've mastered it. Also, this gives the kid an opening to say "No thank you, I don't care to learn how to paint a wall." If household logistics don't require the child's participation, and if it doesn't make logical sense for the chore to be considered a life skill learning experience, and if you can't come up with any other specific good reason why the child would be doing the chore, (note: "because I say so" isn't a good reason, that just gives the kid the impression that you enjoy bossing them around and making them miserable; "because the parenting books say it's good for you" isn't a good reason, that just makes it sound like you don't know what you're doing and are treating parenting books as bible without critical thought) then it's time to tie the chores to the kid's allowance. Divide the amount of the allowance by the number of chores, and pay them for each chore that they complete. Parenting experts advise against this, but my parents did it for the second half of my childhood, and I found it very useful. First of all, it gives the kid the sense that they are earning their own money, which is especially useful for kids who aren't in a position to have an outside job yet, and provides the motivation for doing the chores. I know parenting experts say the kids should do the chores for their own sake or to learn responsibility or something, but if there isn't a specific good reason other than "kids should do chores," the money will help. The kid will learn initiative, responsibility, and consequences by getting money or not depending on whether the chores are done. Plus, the parent can then expand the range of things the kid is expected to buy for themselves because the kid will have more pocket money, so the kid will learn that if they opt out of doing their vacuuming this week, the simple consequence is that they won't have the money to go to the movies with their friends.

5. Don't constantly supervise your child's chores. Teach them how to do it, of course, and let them ask you any questions they might have, but don't be there standing over them while they do it. And make sure their siblings don't bother them while they're doing chores. This gives them a bit of dignity and privacy while doing a job that they might consider undigifnied (or, even if they don't, a sibling bent on harassment might figure out a way to present it as undignified). It also gives them a bit more of a sense of control over their own destiny, which will in turn increase the sense of initiative and responsibility.

Note: I have emphasized throughout this that chores need to make sense to the kids, consequences need to be natural, and "because I say so" is never a sufficient excuse. This is particularly important if you are suddenly changing the way things are done in your household as a result of reading some parenting article or getting some advice, rather than because of internal forces that are evident to your kids. This is the single greatest mistake my parents made - they'd occasionally change the rules to something that made life less enjoyable for no apparent reason (in retrospect, they were probably reading an article or getting advice or something) - and I'm still feeling the resulting resentment and lack of trust to this day.

If changes are made for no apparent reason, especially if the changes don't seem obviously beneficial, this is unsettling to the kids. When things don't make sense, they feel like you either have no idea what they're doing, or they feel like you have some nefarious motivation that they can't yet figure out. This is your kids' real life, their home life, their private life, so they need the security of knowing that the conditions of their life aren't just going to change for no reason.

Analogy: imagine how you'd feel if every once in a while, for no apparent reason, your employer changed your work schedule or moved you to another office or changed your salary/benefits. Now imagine how you'd feel under these conditions if there was absolutely no possibility whatsoever of you ever finding another job or retraining in a new field. You wouldn't want to feel that way in your home life at all times, would you?

Things They Should Invent: mp3s sorted by tempo, for distance runners

In sports camp when I was a kid, one of the counsellors taught us to mentally (or verbally) sing Do Wah Diddy Diddy while we ran, to pace ourselves. If you want to make sure you aren't going to hard, you try to sing the song out loud (because you should still be able to talk while running at a normal pace).

This technique served me well throughout my life, but it gets pretty boring having just that one song. So what they should do is have a service where you can download mp3s by tempo. For example, you type in MM=120, and you get a list of every single song that uses that tempo, so you can listen to a wide variety of music while you run, without losing your pace. Then, if you're training up and your pace increases, you can download some faster music to accompany you.

Open letter to Margaret Wente

Dear Margaret Wente:

In the Toronto section of today's Globe and Mail, you wrote an article where you described the many difficulties you faced going carless for a week. I humbly suggest that the problem is not the lack of a car or shortcomings with the TTC, the problem is your neighbourhood.

When you chose to live in the Beaches, you doubtless did so without consideration for the quality of the public transit service in that area. However, people in your socioeconomic demographic can afford to live in most Toronto neighbourhoods, so if you actually intended to live without a car IRL, you would have picked a different neighbourhood. Try those same errands again, but this time with Yonge & Eg. serving as your home base. If Yonge & Eg. isn't your cup of tea, try Roncesvalles, or Davisville, or the Annex, or St. Clair. Pick your favourite one of the many Toronto neighbourhood that has a subway stop and all your most frequently used amenities and services all within walking distance, and try using that as your home base to get a taste of what life is like for people who could afford a car, but choose not to have one.

My home base is Yonge & Eg. Using a CAA map of Toronto and a ruler, I've determined that my commute is about as long, distance-wise, as yours. It takes me 17-25 minutes, door to door. The amount of walking I have to do is so negligible that I can wear whatever shoes I want, including my ridiculous heels. If my feet are going to start hurting, they would do so from my normal around-the-office walking anyway. If you're worried about the fashionability of carrying a backpack, you can easily fit water, reading material, etc. in a larger purse that does not look out of place on an office worker. The modus operanti for female TTC commuters who carry their lunch is to use a fashionable shopping bag. I see immaculately-groomed women with killer three-inch heels taking the TTC all the time, sometimes including myself. (And when my grooming deteriorates to less than immaculate, it's not because I took the TTC, but rather because I'm generally clumsy and sloppy, with oily skin and flat, heavy hair.)

The trip to the two "out of the way" places you listed (Bathurst & Lawrence and Eglinton & Allen) take me no more than half the travelling time you listed. I can't speak to the ease or difficulty of getting to Scarborough because I have no reason to go there. I don't have to worry about shopping using the TTC, because all the shopping I need is right in my immediate neighbourhood. Ditto with exercise classes - I don't go to a gym because it's no my scene, but I go right past three in the five-minute walk from the subway to my house, and I can think of three more within a five-minute walk in the other direction, plus two more within a five-minute walk of my office. I'm sure one of them would meet my needs.

I do grocery shop several times a week, but it is not out of my way at all (even when I don't grocery shop, I walk right past the store anyway) so it isn't a Great Big Chore. And carrying home a 32-pack of toilet paper? Dead easy! You just stick the end of the pack into one plastic grocery bag, then take two more plastic grocery bags and tie them to the handles of the bag that contains the toilet paper. The two extra bags will serve as extended handles, comfortably reaching over the top of the toilet paper package and allowing you to carry it with no more difficulty than you would have carrying a normal grocery bag. I regularly carry home a big-ass pack of Charmin along with up to five other grocery bags, and the toilet paper is the least of my problems.

While I know that many people cannot afford to live near a subway station, a couple with a house in the Beaches, two cars (one of which is an SUV), and two jobs (at least one of which is white-collar) can certainly afford to live in one of Toronto's more convenient neighbourhoods, and would certainly do so if they chose not to own a car. Therefore, while your experiment may reflect what life is like for those who are too poor to have their pick of neighbourhoods, it is not a sign of what your own life would be like if you gave up driving.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The next definitive fandom meme

Everyone who cares has by now seen the Star Trek version of Knights of the Round Table.

I think I've just stumbled upon its natural successor.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...Azkaban Cell Block Tango!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Before you judge me, here's your homework assignment

With recent news from Statscan that more 20-something are returning to their parents' home after moving out, we've had the usual rash of snide commentary from our elders. But sometimes I think they don't understand our context. One columnist said that we're living with our mommies and daddies because we think we're too good to live in a studio apartment with brick and plywood bookshelves. I know an awful lot of people in their 20s, and none of us think we're too good to live in a studio apartment, but many of us can't afford a studio apartment (or can afford it, but our income isn't sufficient to meet the requirements of the 1/3 rule.) (As for the brick and plywood bookshelves, personally I found it easier and cheaper to have the bookshelf from my childhood bedroom brought up here - bricks and plywood cost money too, you know!)

So, I have devised a homework assignment. If you consider yourself my elder, you must complete this assignment before you are qualified to comment on my financial realities. If you don't want to do all this math, you're free not to comment on my financial situation at all.

First, answer each of the following:

1. How much did you earn at your first job?
2. How much did you earn at your first grownup job?
3. How much was your university tuition?
4. How much was rent on your first apartment?
5. How much did your first home cost?

Then, adjust those numbers for inflation to see how much each amount is worth in today's dollars.

Now you need to find out how much each of these things would pay or cost today.

1. and 2.: You can best answer these questions by looking up comparable jobs on Workopolis or your favourite job-finding site. If you can't find any advertisements, NOCS can give you a vague idea of the average income earned - keep in mind that starting income will be lower. If you got paid minimum wage, it can be found here. If you were unionized, google up the union in question and read the collective agreement.

3. Go to your alma mater's website and look up the current tuition rates.

4. Try typing the address of your first apartment building into Google. If that doesn't work, use your favourite local apartment-finding site.

5. Look in MLS and find a comparable home in the same neighbourhood that is up for sale or sold recently. Again, you can also try googling the address.

Once you have all these numbers, you need to calculate the following ratios - both for "back in the day" when they applied to you, and for today. For the "back in the day" calculations, remember to adjust for inflation:

a) How many hours did/would you need to work at your first job to earn one year's tuition?

b) What percentage of your monthly income was/would be needed to pay the rent on your first apartment?

c) How much mortgage could you get with the income from your first grownup job? A mortgage calculator helps. If you don't remember properly, historical interest rates can be found here.

d) How long did/would it take you to save up a downpayment on that home with the income from your first job? The downpayment must be large enough to both meet whatever requirements are set out by the lender, and to fill the gap between your mortgage amount and the cost of the house. This investment calculator can help you, as will the historical interest rates. Remember to pick an investment that matched your real risk tolerance at the time, without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Remember too how much of your income you could manage to put into savings at the time.

Finished the calculations? Remembered to adjust everything for inflation? Congratulations, now you have a sufficient sense of perspective to comment on my financial situation. Judge away!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We need to question Statistics Canada's definition of "protestant"

The Toronto Star offers this chart of how many people from various religions marry outside their faith. It is sourced to Statistics Canada.

"Protestant" is divided into "Mainline", "Conservative" and "Other". The footnote defines "Other" as:

Includes New Age, Aboriginal Spirituality, Pagan, Scientology, Satanist, Wicca, Gnostic, Rastafarian, Unity, New Thought, Pantheist and other small religious groups.

This is a serious problem. The definition of Protestant clearly identifies it as a form of christianity. I don't know about all these religions, but Pagan, Scientology, Stanaist and Wicca are definitely not christian religions!

Does Statscan always include these other religions in with protestant? If so, that's a huge problem!

And good morning to you too

What's up with all these morning thunderstorms lately?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I need more sociolinguistics!

Today I had to translate a message that was ostensibly coming from a middle-aged man (but was more likely written by his staff.) I translated it from French to English as I normally do, but once it was finished, I realized it didn't really sound like something a middle-aged man would say. It sounded more feminine. Specifically, it sounded like a slightly eccentric female tenured professor who wears scarves and has piles of paper all over the office, when it needed to sound like it was coming from a staid middle-aged man with a mustache. I don't know if that's a function of my own voice, or a function of the fact that the staff person who wrote it was female (I don't know if it was a female staff person or not), or if it's just a function of the French language, which tends to be more emotive. But I had such a struggle getting the tone of the text to sound like it was coming from the person it was coming from!

Since I'll have to do a lot more of this in the future, I briefly considered creating an online persona who's a middle-aged male, just to practice getting the tone down. But even if I could pull off a male persona, there's no way I could do middle-aged. Especially since I'd have to be proactive in saying things, and I don't think I can come up with things that it would occur to a middle-aged male to say. If I could pull it off, it would have to be reactively. But I could never be proactive about it. But then, I've never been very good a role-playing anyway.

I'm sure at least one person has come away from this secretly thinking that I really am a middle-aged male in the guise of a 25-year-old woman.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My stomach, my hands, and my language skills

I love food! Some people view eating as a chore - just something you have to get out of the way to survive - but for me it's a pleasure. The problem is that lately my tastebuds have been craving more food than my digestive system can handle. For example, right now I'm full, bordering on uncomfortably full, but my tastebuds are demanding French onion soup. I have no room for soup, but my tastebuds won't shut up about it. It's quite annoying.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a tragicomic accident where I fell off my yoga ball whilst doing something stupid, and got rugburn all over the back of my hand. Initially, I had a number of ugly scabs - something that you'd expect to see on a Dickensian orphan with a particularly unhealthy-sounding cough like that sickly kid who sometimes shows up on the Simpson. Now it is starting to heal, but there's a section that looks like a healing cigarette burn. I don't know which is worse. Before, I looked like I had some kind of freaky skin disease. Now, I look like I'm either being abused or self-mutilating. In reality, it's just a symptom of not having the common sense to braid or bun my hair before doing upside-down yoga ball things!

The other day I was working at a conference that was being held in a hotel. In the hotel elevator, these three ladies started talking to me in some language I don't know. If I had to guess, I'd say it was Korean, although I could be way wrong. (But I'm going to continue to call it Korean for simplicity's sake.) This was very odd, because there is nothing to indicate that I might understand Korean. I don't like using racial descriptions, but frankly I'm a tall, green-eyed white girl. If I don't look white, I look Mediterranean. If you spoke to me in any European language, I'd understand. If you spoke to me in Hebrew or Arabic or Pashto, I could see why you might think that's worth a try. There is nothing in my superficial appearance to suggest I understand Korean - I wasn't even wearing my ID badge that identified me as a translator. It was most bizarre! Then when I got home that night, I got a phone call where the person on the other end was also talking in Korean. It might have been a prank call (do people still make prank calls?) At any rate, it was the same language as the elevator ladies, which was quite odd. In retrospect, I should have replied to the phone call in Polish.