Saturday, March 31, 2007

Not dead yet

I've just come off the week from hell at work and then I took possession of the apartment today. So I haven't had time to blog any of the zillions of things floating around in my head, or look at my comments, or look at other people's blogs, or generally participate in online or IRL social life. There will be more apartment fuss this weekend, but I do expect to come back to the land of the living shortly.

Compared with this process I'm going through, I'm astounded at how uncivilized our move-in process for res was in university. We were treated like cattle on an assembly line. When we had to move from winter res to summer res, we were given one day's notice without consideration for the fact that we may have other obligations that day. I compare this with my current process where I call or pop in, and they just know who I am and why I'm there and act like they're happy to see me. I wonder if they treat the uni students worse because we'd most likely never lived away from our parents before so we had no idea how well people might be treated for housing out in the grownup world?

PS: To everyone I told that my phone number is changing: my phone number is NOT changing. Apparently Rogers can just take over my Bell number, so I get to keep my 416 cred instead of looking like some 647 newbie. Even though I really am I newbie. Well, I have been here for nearly 7 years...hey, that's over 25% of my life! Maybe I'm not a newbie!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Read this book! Read it for the cultural anthropology. It's an absolutely fascinating explanation of another culture without getting all condescending or preachy.

The protagonist is a British girl who was orphaned in Africa when her hippie parents were killed in a drug deal, then brought up in a Muslim community and then taken to Ethiopia for some reason. The book explores her life as an adolescent living with a widow and her daughters in Harar, Ethopia in the 1970s. This story alternates with the story of the protagonist in the 1980s, now back "home" in London, where she works as a nurse and helps refugees.

My description doesn't do it justice. It is fascinating and compelling, but what I like best is that it describes life in Harar (and life in London, for that matter) in a very matter-of-fact way. Usually when books talk about Other Cultures, there's either a condescending colonial tone or a preachy "noble savages" tone. This one doesn't. It just describes what's happening, quietly making sure to do so in a way I'll understand while sitting in the subway in Toronto, but never passing judgement on the culture being described or on me from being unfamiliar with it. And I left wanting to find out what else happened to the characters in the book, which is always a good sign.

Bad analogy

The Globe and Mail has an article about a Muslim student who refused to do life drawing for religious reasons. Near the end of the article, they draw a parallel with xian students who don't want to read more graphic literature.

Ms. Okruhlik said she and her academic colleagues have dealt with Christian students who don't want to read Henry Miller (who wrote detailed accounts of sexual experiences) or literature that portrays homosexuality favourably.

"And we say to those students, 'No, we value diversity and plurality, but we also value academic freedom. So if you want to take this course, you have to read the assigned reading,' she said.

"It's hard for us to see how equal treatment means we can say to some students, 'No, I'm sorry you have to read that novel that portrays homosexuality in a favourable light -- but, no, you don't have to do that drawing.' "

I wonder why they used the homosexuality analogy, because that's a massive red herring. If a book has graphic sex scenes, that has to do with how explicit it is. It is possible for reading too-graphic written sex scenes to be contrary to a person's sexual morality, which would make it an appropriate analogy with not doing life drawing. (Aside: I haven't read Henry Miller, but I do wonder if you can still study the book effectively if you skip the sex scenes?) However, if a book portrays homosexuality favourably, that's a completely different thing. That's the theme and message expressed by the book. You are welcome to disagree with the theme and message of the book - that makes for good essay fodder! - but just because you don't agree with it doesn't mean you should be excused from reading it.

This would have been a perfectly reasonable analogy if they'd stopped at the Henry Miller. Muslim students don't want to draw nudes, xian students don't want to read sex scenes. But then they went on to the false analogy of books that portray homosexuality favourably, which made a huge dent in their credibility. You'd think academics would be better at analogizing.

Aside: I wonder why life drawing has to be of nude models? I wonder why they can't have the models wear underwear or a bathing suit or a leotard? Surely the human body presents enough challenges even if you don't expose the genitals.

My greatest weakness

I've always had trouble with the "What's your greatest weakness?" question in job interviews. My real greatest weaknesses have always been too great a weakness to emphasize like that, and none of the standard workarounds applied to me in any convincing manner.

But today in the shower, it came to me:

My greatest weakness is that I overthink things.

This is a good answer because it's true - or at least it's the general consensus of people around me that a) I overthink things and b) this is a problem. It can also be easily spun into a positive.

In translation, I'm always reading my work from the point of view of an unsympathetic reader who is determined to take offence at the content of the work or the quality of the translation, or who is going to be poring over the text looking specifically for weaknesses or loopholes. Isn't that a quality you'd want in someone who's responsible for your communications?

In real life, I'm always thinking of a myriad of consequences to whatever action is proposed. Someone says "Hey, I have an idea!" and I'm all "But what about the logistics? And the environmental impact? And the political implications? Do we really want to be manipulating market forces that way? And what if someone involved has a cochlear implant?" This tends to infuriate people IRL, but isn't it a quality you'd want in an employee?

How to shock people

I have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Most of my opinions are controversial to some people, and some of my opinions are controversial to most people. I tend to question societal norms, and follow them only if they meet my own needs.

But there's one statement which above and beyond shocks the most people. Of all the things I've said in my life, it has made the most people gasp, clutch their metaphorical pearls, say "You don't mean that!", try to convince me otherwise, and think there's something serious wrong with me for feeling this way.

Here is the statement:

"I don't care at all, in any way whatsoever, what colour my walls are painted."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Open Letter to the TTC

Dear TTC:

Please stop putting that "TTC Maps and Info Available Here" insert in with my Metropass. That same information is already printed on the paper that the Metropass is attached to! You're just wasting paper and precious $$$ that could better be used for other things.

Open Letter to Postsecret

Dear Postsecret:

I'd really appreciate it if you'd keep your page worksafe. Or, if that's not possible, post a NSFW warning above any NSFW pictures.

I know I really shouldn't be looking at it at work, but I can't work 8 hours straight through without a mental break, and it's a good thing to look at when I need a mental break since it only takes a minute to read and I don't get sucked in.

But if you make it NSFW, that changes everything. It's suddenly not a random, innocent diversion, instead it's a violation of my network use TOS. So please, give me a warning?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

More on Test the Nation

1. On a 20 inch, non-HD TV, the pictures for the puzzle questions aren't clear enough.

2. The little CBC logo in the corner gets in the way sometimes

3. One of the millionaires runs a dating service that pairs up rich men with hot women. Tastefulness aside, and aside from the fact that I wouldn't want to date someone who wanted me only for my money/body, I couldn't imagine dating someone who was willing to date someone who wanted them only for their money/body. "Hi, I have no higher expectations from my personal life than to be used in a prostitution-style transaction." Not attractive.

4. They really should explain HOW you're supposed to arrive at the answer. Some of them really did require explanation for people who didn't get them. The one with the sequence of numbers where they asked which one didn't belong, and the one that didn't belong was 8, I really didn't get the logic behind that, even with the correct answer in hand. I hope they post explanations on their website.

5. In the IQ calculation chart gives older people a few more IQ points for the same number of questions than younger people (and I don't mean OLD old people - the oldest demographic category was 55+). I wonder why? You'd think a few more years of life experience would make it easier to answer some of these questions, so older people with lower IQs would be able to answer more questions rather than vice versa.

6. The highest possible scores seem low to me. The highest someone older than 55 could get is 156, and the highest someone under 24 could get is 141. All the official testing I've done has been in the context of a gifted education program, so I'm used to seeing people jockeying around among higher scores. But seriously, there must be some people out who are under 24 with an IQ well over 141. It's statistically rare, true, but it's common enough that they wouldn't write you up in the newspaper as a human interest story or anything.

Test the Nation

First of all, I'd like to apologize to all 26-year-olds, women, Ontarians, brunettes, right-handed people, night people, vegetarians, wine-drinkers, first-born children, and whoever matched my demographics for the other demographic questions (I forget what they all were now). I misread two logic questions and one math question, and that brought my score (and consequently the score for my entire demographic) down to 132, even though I've always tested over 135 under official conditions. (My understanding is this is important because 135 is some kind of threshold.) The online test seems to give the user less time than official IQ tests do, because I've never felt pressed for time taking a real-life IQ test. Either that, or real-life IQ tests don't mix up, for example, synonym and antonym questions. I don't know if they do or not because it's been over a decade since I've been tested officially, but I've never had to be so aware of what the question is actually answering before.

I found that the memory questions, and to a lesser extent the pattern recognition questions, weren't so much about memory and pattern recognition as they were about being familiar with the kinds of questions they might ask in a memory or pattern recognition test. I wasn't actually memorizing in the memory section, I was looking for questions they might ask. I don't think that tests real-life memory, because in real-life you don't deliberately look for those kinds of details. They just test how well you test.

Teach me how to tip my movers

This is the first time I've ever hired movers, and I'm not certain about the tipping dance.

1. The general consensus of the internet seems to be that $20-30 for each guy is an appropriate tip. But is this a flat-rate tip, or is it based on a percentage of the bill? The company I've chosen is one of the more expensive ones out there - I decided I'm willing to pay for a good reputation - so as tips go this isn't actually a respectable percentage of the bill. Do I need to be tipping 20% of the bill, and if so do I need to give that to each guy, or in total?

2. Like most reputable companies, the one I've chosen has a minimum number of hours for which they charge you. Because my apartment is small and my move is short, it's going to take less than the minimum number of hours. I've decided this is acceptable, especially considering the poor repuations of companies who don't have minimum charges. But if the tip is supposed to be a percentage of the bill, do I tip as a percentage of the actual bill (which will be for more hours than they actually worked), or as a percentage of what the bill would be if there was no minimum charge?

3. How exactly do I give the tip to the mover? When I go to a restaurant, I tip by leaving money on the table. When I order a pizza or take a taxi, I tip by telling them to keep the change. I've never been in a situation where I have to actually hand the tip to the person. I'm not comfortable with this - it feels kind of like an insult to their dignity. Do I just hand them a wad of cash or put it in an envelope? Do I say "Here's your tip" or do I just hand it to them? Do I give them each their own tip separately or just give it to the head guy?

4. I might have them working through lunch. The internet tells me that the polite thing to do is feed them, but this is logistically difficult. I happen to have in my possession some gift certificates for a place where they can get some (fast and cheap) lunch. I'm never going to use them because I'm embarrassed to use gift certificates for such a small purchase. Would it be a good idea or a bad idea for me to include these in the tip (in addition to, not as a substitute for, an appropriate amount of money)? I think it might be a good idea because it will cover the lunch thing, but I think it might be a bad idea because it's something I'm embarrassed to use myelf.

I'd appreciate any insight anyone might have on these questions.

Free cookies!

If you happen to visit a certain website where you have to either buy a membership or watch a commercial to gain access, it may interest you to know that you can expedite the process by cookieing yourself. (Yeah, I think the E looks funny in that word too, but if I left it out it would be cooking.)

Next time you watch the commercial, watch your URL bar. As you are granted access to the site, you will see the cookieing process reflected in the URL bar. Next time you need a cookie, you can simply manipulate the URL manually, and it should let you in.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The bottom layer

I've been slowly sorting through everything in my apartment, culling piles and throwing out stuff I don't use. But whenever I get to the bottom layer I get sad and don't want to throw the stuff out.

The bottom layer is the stuff from when I first moved in here, from the last little bit of university. There are university projects that I foolishly thought would make a good portfolio, my planner from 4th year uni (which ended up being the last time in my life that I ever used a planner), bits of administrative minutiae - things of no further importance and no sentimental value by any standards.

And yet finding them makes me sad.

I don't know why. The time they are from was not good. It was uncertain and terrifying and angst-ridden. Now is much better. My life is not changing, I'm just moving to a nicer apartment. I don't know if I'm picking up on residual sadness from back then or if I'm feeling some irrational sadness now, but this is most inconvenient.

New taxes

Toronto is considering eight possible new taxes (article, graphic summary in PDF form).

Here's what I think:

Tobacco, billboard, and vehicle taxes: These don't and never will affect me.

Alcohol tax: This does affect me, but I recognize that it's a sin tax and am willing to accept that. You can tax my alcohol as much as you'd like, and if it becomes a burden I'll cut down my drinking.

Entertainment tax: I'm not sure about the advisability of this. Conventional wisdom is that taxing something serves as a disincentive. Given that entertainment in Toronto is already expensive, and that Toronto is always trying to attract more tourists, I don't think an additional tax on entertainment will help. The only way it might serve as a disincentive to me personally is that it might make me more choosy in the movies and theatre that I consume, but I'm already choosy - I don't go to movies or plays that are "this might be good," I hold out for "this will be good." I have my reservations, but I'm willing to let people who know more about the effect of taxation on human behaviour decide.

Land transfer tax: I don't much like this one. What I don't like about the process of buying property in general is that there are other costs on top of the price you pay for the real estate, but it's difficult to find out what they are. I know that if I ever buy, basically my entire life's savings will be used as a downpayment, thus greatly hindering my ability to absorb unexpected extra costs. (There's no way to avoid this - when I run my salary through a mortgage calculator, the amount of mortgage they're willing to give me is nowhere near the price of anywhere I might want to live, so I'll need a huge downpayment to make up the difference.) As a prospective owner, this makes my life more difficult. As a consumer, I don't like it because I don't like any measure (including regular sales taxes and telecommunications pricing) where there are additional fees on top of the advertised purchase price. There's also the fact that, of these eight things, real estate (i.e. shelter) is the greatest necessity. Living somewhere is a necessity, and therefore buying and selling real estate is a necessity. (Yes, some people do it as financial speculation, but for others it is a necessary part of life.) Although owning is less common in Toronto, I don't think it should be treated as a luxury. Pricey as it may be, it's still your home.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Know what excites me about the new transit plan? The Eglinton Crosstown line! If they build this (they're dependent on funding from other levels of government, so I'm still using the conditional) I'll be able to walk a block from my front door and step on a train that will take me directly to the airport! Instead of a $40 taxi ride, I'd swipe my metropass! This is also a convenient link to the University-Spadina line (now it's an annoying bus ride, or a trip down to Bloor and back up). Plus, it might reduce my environmental foot print. If I can travel back and forth along Eglinton by rail, I'll be more likely to return my bottles to the Beer Store instead of recycling them (although I still might be embarrassed to do so for just a few cents), and I'll be more likely to go out to Canadian Tire/Home Depot to look for fluorescent lightbulbs instead of buying incandescent when the fluroescents I need aren't available at the grocery store or Shopper's. (Yes, I know it's a relatively short bus trip, but I'm only human and don't like to go out of my way, especially not by bus).

I do wonder about property values though. Would the introduction of a second subway line make property values increase significantly? Would they increase significantly in anticipation? Or would the people who'd move here in anticipation of a second line have already done so in the 1990s when they last tried to build an Eglinton subway line? I don't mean to be one of those NIMBYistes who freaks out whenever property values change, but I don't want to be priced out of my own neighbourhood either.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Lebanon evacuation thing

This worries me. I'm worried that it will cause a scandal and then they'll introduce additional checks and balances that will ultimately delay future evacuations. I'm afraid that one day I'll be stuck in some emergency requiring consular assistance and I won't be able to get it in time because of the red tape.

I remember from when the Lebanon evacuation was in the news, they said it didn't go very well. People were stuck waiting for days and days. They had to go days without showering. There was no air conditioning on the boat. People were getting seasick and there was no medical attention. That doesn't sound very pleasant, and I certainly wouldn't want red tape to make it worse.

As a citizen, I would want my government to evacuate me as quickly and efficiently as possible, preferably in greater comfort than the Lebanon evacuation, regardless of the cost. As a taxpayer, I don't begrudge them whatever it costs to evacuate, even if some money is wasted in the process of getting it done as quickly as possible. One thing I have learned in life is that is what money is for - to throw at emergency situations and make them all better.

If something was done wrong and it can be corrected or remedied, go ahead and do so. If someone was taking advantage of the situation, go ahead and expose them. If the quality of the evacuation (not value for money, but the evacuee experience) could have been improved, go ahead and do so. But do not go around introducing new checks and balances that will make it harder to pull off a quick evacuation next time it's necessary. It's not worth it. Accept any financial loss as collateral damage, and move on.


Theory: Conservapedia either is a spoof, or has by now attracted attention from vandals who are making it look even wingnuttier than it would be under natural conditions.

Exercise makes me angry

Whenever I exercise, it brings out any anger I might be feeling. And I don't mean that in a good way, like that the anger gets channelled into the exercises and then burned out. I mean that the act of exercises takes any latent anger I might be feeling and draws it to the surface, so I find myself yelling at people who have wronged me in the past, and occasionally at the exercise people on the screen when they're giving me bad instructions.

I don't like this. I don't like the person it makes me. I never get angry at non-immediate things, except while I'm exercising. I'm a much better person when I'm sedentary. It would be enough to make me stop exercising forever, were it not for the need to keep my blood pressure low enough to stay on the pill and the circumference of my body small enough to not drift into plus-size clothing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Evolution-Creation Struggle by Michael Ruse

This book sets out to give a history of evolution and creationism, and tell the reader how we got to where we are now. It does that successfully, and is quite calm about it. The only problem was it didn't hold my interest while it was doing that. I think that's a problem with me instead of with the book - I found the subject matter less interesting than I thought I would. The book does briefly explore how religion in the US turned out to be more fundamentalist than religion in Europe, which was rather interesting, but as a whole it turned out I just don't care about evolution vs. creationism for 300 pages worth of text.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hooked on mnemonics

Warren Clements, author of the Globe and Mail's Wordplay column, has compiled a list of the top 10 misused words that readers send to him. He does a good job of explaining the grammatical rules behind each correct usage, but doesn't provide any easier ways to remember them. So I'd like to humbly offer up a few mnemonics I've collected over the years.

1. Its/It's: "It's" means "it is". The apostrophe replaces the "i" in "is". Therefore, if you see the apostrophe, mentally replace it with "is". If the sentence still makes sense, you've used the correct word.

2. Who/whom: Rework the sentence so that the person referred to by who/whom is referred to by "he" or "him". If "he" fits, the correct answer is "who". If "him" fits, the answer is "whom." The mnemonic is that "him" and "whom" both end in M. To use the example given in the column: "This is the man who(m) I believe knows the answer." So let's rework that to accomodate a "he" or a "him": "I believe ______ knows the answer." The word "he" fits in the blank, the word "him" does not. Therefore, the sentence takes a "who".

7. I/me: This item deals with the habit of saying "you and I" every time you have the second person and the first person joined by a conjuction, regardless of whether it's the subject or the object. "Just between you and ___", "...for you and ___", etc. There's a simple test to figure out which one is correct: handle the pronouns one at a time. "This is a good experience for you and ____". So take the "you" out, and you end up with "This is a good experience for me." When you do the pronouns one at a time, it becomes obvious which one is correct.

8. Discreet/discrete: Discrete has two discrete E's.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Half-formed idea

Let's all work to associate the word "pathetic" with rapists, sexual harassers, etc. Whenever it comes up in conversation, find some opportunity to label them as pathetic, using cultural expectations of masculinity to convey our message to its greatest advantage. Pathetic in the most stereotypically unmanly way. Pathetic like living in your parents' basement. Pathetic like a 40-year-old virgin. Pathetic like a teenage boy who's so overexcitable he cums his pants the first time he manages to touch a girl's breast. We will channel the worst of our middle-school bullies to sneed and spit out the word pathetic with complete loathing and contempt. They're all pathetic little boys who are raping/harassing/whatever because they aren't man enough for a consensual relationship of equals. How pathetic!

Panhandlers earning $200 a day

At some point during my adolescence, a newspaper article was published saying that panhandlers earn $200 a day. I don't remember where it was published or what methodology they used to arrive at this conclusion, I don't even know if I read the article myself or I just heard about it. I just remembered the number $200 a day and the fact that the grownups around me were outraged about it.

At the time, I couldn't quite conceptualize $200 a day. It sounded like a lot to me, but I couldn't give you specifics about the quality of life it would support. But now I can grok that amount. I more or less know what it feels like, what it will buy.

And you know what? I don't think they have it easy!

It's certainly not wretched poverty. You could have your own apartment if you could manage to get an apartment without having a job. You could have phone and TV and internet. You could buy groceries. You could furnish the apartment over time. Overall, you could manage a perfectly decent standard of living on $200 a day.

But there's also work involved in panhandling $200 a day. You have to be outside in the elements. You have to deal with people. You're doing the in-person equivalent of cold-calling. You're in an undignified position. People are looking at you with scorn. And you're essentially working solely on commission, with no salary or benefits.

I don't have to deal with any of that shit in my current job! And frankly, if I did have to deal with that shit, I'd be actively searching for another job, perhaps even quitting my job and living on my savings until I could find another job. Speaking from the privileged position of white-collar salary, I wouldn't panhandle for $200 a day because I wouldn't consider that adequate compensation for the working conditions.

I think, in light of the working conditions of panhandlers, they aren't getting a free ride. In other words, if they are actually getting $200, they aren't getting it for doing nothing. Instead, it's a twisted form of entrepreneurship. They can't find a job so they make their own, and the job they've made is to use salesmanship and performance and psychology to convince people to give them money.

That sounds hard to me. I don't have that kind of drive and initiative, and I'm not up to faking it for only $200 a day. I'd rather earn my money the easy way, by sitting in a cubicle and translating.

Parenting advice from the childfree

Inspired by a train of thought arising from the first letter in Friday's Vine (i.e. Friday March 9, it hasn't been archived yet):

Think about the sexual values you want your kid(s) to have. Yes, I know, squicky. You don't want them having sex at all ever. But work past that mentally and think into the distant future, when your kid is a full-fledged adult and in whatever kind of situation you think it's appropriate for people to be in before they have sex. What do you want their sexual values to be? Do you want their sex to be loving? Kind? Gentle? Respectful? Fair and equal? Fun? Romantic? Not taken too seriously? Taken very seriously? Heterosexual? Homosexual? Married? Unmarried? For procreation purposes only? Heavy protected by contraception? Just decide, quietly and to yourself, what these values are.

Then, whenever a book you're reading contains sex scenes that reflect these values, buy the book and keep it on a bookshelf in your home. The books don't have to be about sex, they just have to contain one or more sex scene of whatever level of graphicness they happen to be. You can read them or not as your preferences dictate to you, just keep them on a bookshelf in your livingroom or some other public area of your home. Don't point this out to your kid or anything, just keep it there in your home.

Why? Because at some point in early adolescence, your kid is going to learn that some books have sex in them. And they're going to look for the sexy parts of books so they can learn more about sex. While they might prefer a more visual medium, books have the advantage of being innocent- and respectable-looking, silent, and easily portable. Once your kid discovers that there's sex in them thar books, they will read the books, especially the sex scenes, and most likely surreptitiously. But because you have chosen books whose sex scenes reflect what you consider to be positive sexual values, your kid's earliest exposures to sex portrayed in media will reflect the values you want to instill.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Sarah Silverman Program

I just saw the Sarah Silverman Program for the first time today, and I'm astounded at how good it is. That isn't necessarily an assessment of its net comedy value, but rather the fact that they took what by all rights should have been stupid, offensive, gross-out humour and made it funny. I don't normally find that kind of humour funny at all, but I was laughing! And now I'm trying to figure out why.

I think I was laughing despite the gross-out humour, not because of it. I don't find the "Look! A fart!" funny, but the way they set up a whole situation that is funny, with or without the fart. Saying it's funny doesn't do it justice. It's both tightly plotted, with everything being used well, and utterly bizarre.

The bizarreness actually helps make it funny despite subject matter that should be offensive. These characters clearly do not inhabit the real world. Natural consequences to their actions exist or do not exist as necessary to serve the comedy. Sarah invites a homeless guy to come home with her, and he doesn't take it as a pickup or show any sexual interest in her. He takes her frankly insulting attempts to help him exactly as well as she intended him to take them. Why? Because it's funnier that way and moves the plot in the necessary direction. She starts talking about queefing on TV, going way overboard, and the TV audience thinks it's hilarious but the homeless guy is offended. Why? Because it's funnier that way and moves the plot in the necessary direction. I know I usually complain about lack of natural consequences in my fiction, but for comedic purposes this works better without. And I can accept it on that basis. It's like Monty Python with a plot in that way.

I'm not 100% sure, but I think this show doesn't have a laugh track, and that really helps, especially when the humour is such a delicate balance. They aren't telling me what's funny and what isn't. My enjoyment isn't interrupted by a bunch of fake people laughing at a fart. I can just take what I can use and go on, as Ani Difranco says. Without a laugh track, it's like when someone mentions in passing that they have a core belief that you find objectionable; with the laugh track, it's like when they spend the entire dinner party trying to get you to change your core beliefs to correspond with theirs.

I'll probably come back to this later, because I'm fascinated by the fact that I find this funny. For now, I just hope that zombie ghost thing doesn't give me nightmares tonight!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I just realized, from watching Little Mosque today, that one thing I find raelly dissonant about hijab is that Muslim women generally cover their heads when out in public, but they will bare their heads when at home, including in front of their father and/or brothers.

Intellectually I can accept that's What's Done. But when I really think about it and try to identify with the situation, I find it very strange to expose to your father a part of your body that you aren't willing to expose in public. There is no analogy or equivalent in my own life experience. Yes, I'll wear my pyjamas or a bathrobe in the presence of my father, but that doesn't actually expose any of my body, it's just highly informal. If I'm wearing a cami and planning to put a shirt on over top and my father knocks on my door while I'm dressing, I'll make him wait until I've put on and buttoned the shirt - he doesn't get to see me in my cami if that's not what I'm exposing to the general public.

I just have no frame of reference for showing your father a part of your body that you keep hidden from the public. Covering your head, your face, your whole body, I grok that. You can't date, no physical contact with the opposite sex, I grok that. Putting a scarf over your head to go shopping and then taking it off when you get home to your father, just too much for my puny little brain.

Little Mosque has officially lost me

Rayyan is a doctor. That means that she is a) a very responsible person, and b) at least in her mid-20s, probably older.

I simply cannot enjoy spending time in a place where a grown woman who is a physician and whose behaviour has been nothing but exemplary is not trusted to adhere to her own morals.

This plot might work with a teenager (although I'd still find it distasteful), but you can't just transpose it onto a grown adult who is a doctor.

Brilliant Ideas That Will Never Work: luxury witness protection program

Conventional wisdom is that people aren't willing to come forward and report crimes that they've witnessed. The solution: make it worth their while. If you witness and report a major crime, you get put into a really posh witness protection program. Along with their new identity, witnesses get a home, paid for outright, fully furnished, and stocked with everything they'll need (since they have to leave their previous lives behind). They also get a generous annual allowance, tax-free and indexed, to ensure that they never have to work again. If they have any kids, they get an additional allowance to cover their tuition and school expense. And they get all this for the rest of their lives providing they don't ever get involved in crime.

I wonder what effect it would have on gang-related crime if snitching suddenly became more lucrative than a life of crime?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I don't think Dear Ellie quite gets what the internet is all about

A self-described "internet geek" writes to Ellie asking for advice on how to attract women. Most of the advice she gives is adequate, but this one statement I disagree with: "...push away from your computer to try something new – rock climbing, snowboarding, whatever. Now you have something to be enthusiastic about in conversation."

There are two problems here:

1. The internet is an excellent source of things to be enthusiastic about in conversation. Rock climbing, not so much. Whatever you're into, the internet can help you find out more about it and hook you up with communities of like-minded people. Rock rock climbing. It's only one thing. If you spend an hour rock climbing and you aren't particularly enthusiastic about it, you've just wasted an hour. If you spend an hour on the internet looking for things that are interesting, you will definitely find something to be enthusiastic about.

2. If rock climbing or snowboarding or whatever is the tipping point that causes this guy's next relationship to launch, that relationship isn't going to last. He needs someone with whom he can discuss whatever he's actually into, not someone for whom he will always have to act like a rock climbing enthusiast.

I think the guy's main problem is that he thinks he has to Make a Move - that there's this one-chance, make-or-break Move that he has to make, and if he does it right he'll come out with a girlfriend. Ellie should have focused her advice a little more towards getting to know people and building friendships over time, and she completely neglected to mention how the internet can be helpful in doing that. On the internet, this guy can find other people who are passionate about whatever he's passionate about - for real, not random rock climbing - and find where he can meet likeminded people IRL. Plus he can use online communities to practice making friends so he's more comfortable doing that IRL.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Living alone redux

Apart from the fact that it's a crash course in the joys and responsibilities of adulthood, there are two other things:

1. You get to spend some time with your true, uncensored self. There's no one else around to impress or accomodate.

2. You can keep almost any aspect of your life secret from almost everyone.

It really teaches you a lot about yourself and your priorities to have complete freedom in your private actions, and complete control over who finds out about them.

Modern and Normal by Karen Solie

Usually poetry doesn't work for me, but this one did. It wasn't over my head, I got it. All of it worked for me, but what I liked best was the found poetry. She took text from packaging and textbooks and other ephemeral sources, and arranged it as poems. Ever since I read it, I've been viewing everyday texts in a more poetic way, which makes the act of translation far more interesting.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lower Bay

I went through Lower Bay today, and, just like everyone else in the city, I feel the need to blog about it.

The station itself looks kind of post-apocalyptic. That might be because there's no one on the platform, no one at all. I was kind of disappointed that I couldn't see what was happening in the tunnels though. I thought this was because of the poor lighting in the tunnels, but now that I look at the videos on youtube I can see that it's because the driver had done that thing where he opens the door to his little cabin the full way, blocking off the front row of seats and the front window. I suppose he has his reasons, but it seems a bit inconsiderate given the exceptional situation.

I found that Museum was handled well. There were a LOT of TTC supervisors and transit cops on the platform, and they'd verbally repeat every loudspeaker announcement, so everyone was within hearing range of someone giving the information in person. Must be a boring job for them though.

What surprised me is how quickly we got from Museum to Bloor. When I was taking a class of U of T, I went every day from Museum up to St. George, transferred to the Bloor line, then over to Yonge&Bloor to transfer back to the Yonge line to go home. Going through the Y was so much faster! Just on that basis, if they decided to start using Lower Bay again, I wouldn't disagree.

Overall it wasn't that exciting, although it must be so cool if you go in not knowing that there's another station down there.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ethical question

Someone scratched a swastika on the wall of the elevator. Would I be helping if I were to add some more lines to the graffiti to close the "squares" formed by the swastika, thus changing it from a swastika to one large square subdivided into four small squares?

Critical thinking

I've been doing some tough thinking lately, really reflecting on myself and my role and place in the world and what I have to offer, and I've come to some pretty serious conclusions:

I am not special, not at all. I have nothing unique to contribute. Even if I were given the power to rule the world, I couldn't offer anything to make it a better place.

Okay, stop. Think about what you were thinking in response to those statements. Some of you were probably wondering what had happened to get me so depressed. Some of you were probably thinking "That's not true!" and mentally drafting a comment to convince me I'm wrong. Some of you may have been sneering at me for wallowing in angst and self-pity. But, unless you came here thinking that I have an over-inflated ego and deserve a downfall, your reaction probably wasn't positive or neutral. In our culture, those kinds of statements are not considered positive or neutral. They aren't considered healthy or normal. They're considered negative, a sign of a problem that needs fixing.

So what does this have to do with anything? They recently did a study labelling an entire generation as narcissists because, when asked to respond to certain statements, the responses of the students studied were the opposite of the statements I made above.

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory asks students to react to such statements as: "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place," "I think I am a special person" and "I like to be the center of attention."

(It isn't explicitly stated in the article, but the way these tests generall work is that you give a yes or no, or a response on the agree or disagree spectrum, to the statements given.)

I don't think this is a valid indicator, because our cultural values indicate that an "agree" is the "right" answer, the "healthy" answer. I think people would be inclined to say "agree" or "yes" when they didn't actively disagree, or when they were thinking "There's nothing wrong with me in this area, I'm perfectly healthy and normal in this aspect of life." Telling someone "You're special" is a meaningless cliche, while "You're nothing special" is an actual insult. "He thinks he's special" is run-of-the-mill everyday egoism, while "He think there's nothing special about himself" borders on time to schedule a therapy appointment.

So does the fact that our culture has established "I'm special" as the norm mean that everyone actually thinks they're special? I don't think that's necessarily true either, because there isn't really any place in our culture to reflect on or question your own specialness. You can question other sacred cows, like sex or politics or religion or your basic moral values, and by the end of your first year of university you most likely already have. If you decide to change your religion or politics to something drastically unorthodox, or have kinky sex with unlikely partners, or give on up capitalism or consumerism or family values, there's a name for whatever you're doing and and online community for likeminded people. But if you decide to question whether you're actually special, there's no name for that, no community for that. If you go to a therapist because you find yourself questioning your politics or religion or sexuality, they'll help you work through the feelings around it, but won't try to change your politics or religion or sexuality. If you go to a therapist and say "I'm beginning to have doubts about whether I'm actually special," they'll probably try to get you to see that you're actually special.

Lather, rinse, repeat for making the world a better place and for wanting to be the centre of attention.

As long as we consider negative responses to these statements as signs of a problem, we can't go around indicting people for giving positive responses.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Weird framing choice

The National is doing a thing on diabetes. While making the point that weight gain and an unhealth diet affects the likelihood of diabetes, they showed footage from a Tim Hortons. The camera zoomed in on the contents of one customer's tray, then panned over to another customer's buttocks.

Weird thing: the buttocks in question weren't at all fat.

They weren't the sexiest buttocks ever at all in the world, but they certainly weren't fat.