Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dark vs. Right?

In my post below, I mentioned the Darkness and the Demons. These are my names for complex emotions, not literal things I actually see (and completely different from what Dexter experiences). I find people either immediately identify with this and no further explanation is necessary, or they have no idea what I'm talking about and think perhaps I need some drugs (or have been taking some drugs).

The most right-wing person I know personally cannot identify with the Darkness. When presented with the Darkness depicted visually in the arts (Munch, Burton, Gorey), they say they cannot imagine how anyone could possibly ever think of such things.

This leads me to wonder if there's a correlation between a person's politics and whether they experience the Darkness. I haven't done any investigation into this at all, but it does occur to me that it would be far easier to be right-wing if you knew nothing of the Darkness.

My new year's resolution

When the darkness descends or the demons come out to play, I will not even try to work through it. Instead I will immediately reach for food, wine, music and comedy to get my mood back up, then regroup and try again. Virtuous though it may feel, ploughing through the darkness is never as efficient as preserving my energy until the light comes back, and I'm a better person when I've been laughing than when I've been crying.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

How to get me to use biodegradeable garbage bags

Mr. Hartmann said Toronto should simply require biodegradable bags instead of purchasing more costly hydropulpers to remove plastic. He said Toronto residents would be willing to convert to biodegradable bags if they knew it would help the environment.

Come on, does anyone not already know it helps the environment?

I've been through this before, but I'll say it again: what they really need to do is have all stores bag people's purchases in biodegradeable plastic bags instead of the regular kind. Then we will automatically have biodegradeable bags on hand to put our garbage and organics in.

Why not buy biodegradeable bags? First of all, I currently get bags for free with my purchases - buying them is additional expense and inconvenience. Secondly, they aren't readily available within my normal travels, and like hell I'm going to make a separate trip just for garbage bags.

Why not use reuseable shopping bags? Because then I'd have to plan my grocery shopping (which introduces a completely new chore to my routine) and carry big shopping bags around all day (which doubles the number of things I'm carrying - normally I just have a purse) or go home after work, pick up the bags, and go back to the grocery store (which nearly doubles my commute).

It's a completely different story for car people - they can put the reuseable bags in their trunks, and since they travel so widely normally they tend not to consider an extra stop an inconvenience. But for those of us who choose to incur greater expenses and sacrifice space and privacy for the massive convenience of living without a car and within walking distance of most amenities, having to carry extra things and buy extra things is a significant inconvenience. For a car person, it may only be a 5% inconvenience. For me, it's like a 25% inconvenience.

Having stores bag my purchases in biodegradeable bags will ensure that I never put another plastic bag down the garbage chute and that every garbage bag I use is biodegradeable. Anything else is very unlikely to work on me.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Things They Should Research: Does the morphology of numbers in different languages affect those cultures' perceptions of adolescence?

Q: Which ages are considered "teenagers"?
A: 13-19
Q: Why?
A: Because those are the numbers that have "teen" in them.

This has nothing to do with adolescent development, does it? It's just because that's how the numbers go. But the numbers don't do the same thing in every language. Here are the numbers 10-20 inclusive in a few languages. "Teens" (i.e. morphemes deriving from 10) are bolded.

English: ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty

French: dix, onze, douze, treize, quatorze, quinze, seize, dix-sept, dix-huit, dix-neuf, vingt

German: zehn, elf, zwölf, dreizehn, vierzehn, fünfzehn, sechzehn, siebzehn, achtzehn, neunzehn, zwanzig

Spanish: diez, once, doce, trece, catorce, quince, dieciséis, diecisiete, dieciocho, diecinueve, veinte

Polish: dziesięć, jedenaście, dwanaście, trzynaście, czternaście, piętnaście, szesnaście, siedemnaście, osiemnaście, dziewiętnaście, dwadzieścia (the numbers 11-19 all formulate the same, but it isn't a derivative of 10 as far as I can tell)

Russian: Десять, Одиннадцать, Двенадцать, Тринадцать, Четырнадцать, Пятнадцать, Шестнадцать, Семнадцать, Восемнадцать, Девятнадцать, Двадцать (text copy-pasted from the first appropriate website because I can't convince my keyboard to do cyrillic. Again, 11-19 all formulate the same, but it isn't a derivative of 10)

Portugese: dez, onze, doze, treze, catorze, quinze, dezasseis, dezassete, dezoito, dezanove, vinte (thank you Poodle)

Afrikaans: tien, elf, twaalf, dertien, veertien, vyftien, sestien, sewentien, agtien, neëntien, twintig(thank you Poodle)

Italian: Dieci, Undici, Dodici, Tredici, Quattordici, Quindici, Sedici, Diciassette, Diciotto, Diciannove, Venti (via Google translate)

Dutch: Tien, Elf, Twaalf, Dertien, Veertien, Vijftien, Zestien, Zeventien, Achttien, Negentien, Twintig (via Google translate)

Greek: δεκα, εντεκα, δωδεκα, δεκατρεις, δεκατεσσερα, δεκαπεντε, δεκαεξι, δεκαεπτα, δεκαοκτω, δεκαεννεα, εικοσι (via Google translate - I can't actually read Greek so I'm just identifying patterns visually)

If you have access to any other languages, please post in the comments! Google Translate also does Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, but I can't read those well enough to draw any conclusions - if you can, your contributions would be most welcome. (I know I should be using Google Translate and normally I don't but this is one of the most straightforward translations possible with no negative consequences of getting it wrong.)

Anyway, given that the change in number formulation can occur anywhere from 11 to 17 depending on the language, I'm wondering if this affects how various cultures perceive adolescence. Anyone in the market for a thesis project?

Etiquette puzzle

I'm in a conversation with two other people, A and B. A asks B a question. A and B have every reason to believe that B is the most qualified person to answer the question. However, I know at least as much as B, if not more, and have every reason to believe that I can explain it better than B.* Should I chime in, "Oh, I've translated about that! Here's how it works!"? Should I wait for an opening and then put in my two cents, if I have anything to add on top of what B says? Should I passive-aggressively ask B questions to lead them to providing the information that A needs? Or should I just shut up and let B be the expert?

*Really, this isn't ego. Something about how I learn things when translating about them seems to make me far better able to explain them to outsiders than insiders can. In other cases, I've experienced something firsthand and studied it academically, when B has done only one or the other.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

So what does a petition have to do to get into the news?

I've seen several mentions in the news of the fact that a facebook group opposing proposed changes to Canada's copyright law got something like 30,000 members in only a few days.

But the "stop being a dickhead about climate change" (traduction libre) petition got over 100,000 signatures in three or four days, and I haven't seen that in the news anywhere.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sesame Street Old School!

Recently I've been watching Sesame Street Old School, old Sesame Street from the early 70s, which apparently "Is intended for grown-ups and may not suit the needs of today's pre-schooler."

So obviously I had to watch it to see what was apparently so wrong with it!

I can see a few things that wouldn't fly today. Gordon (who's a teacher - I'd forgotten that) takes it upon himself to walk a little girl who's new to the neighbourhood home from school and introduce her to everyone. Susan invites this little girl she's just met (and many other children over the course of the show) to come over for milk and cookies. And speaking of milk, they seemed really enthusiastic about milk in the first episode. There was like milk propoganda! (Seriously, five minutes on milk, on Sesame Street?) And at one point Luis decides to go out for a coffee break and leaves a small child at the Fix-It Shop with instructions to answer the phone and tell whoever calls that he'll be back in five minutes. Then he says "And if they don't speak English..." and gives her instructions on what to say in Spanish - and I think she didn't even speak Spanish!

It was fun to see early incarnations of the muppets we all know and love. Oscar the Grouch was ORANGE! Big Bird was kind of dopey and stupid at first, then he grew some more feathers on the top of his head and became more childlike than dopey. In Mr. Snuffleupagus's first appearance, his eyes were green - like even the whites of his eyes were green! Cookie Monster was this big dark hairy lurking beast who snuck up and wordlessly devoured Kermit the Frog's W. Oh, and everyone with whom I've argued about the lyrics of the "One of these things is not like the others" song: they don't sing it the same way every time! So we're all right!

But what was even more fun is noticing as an adult things that I took as given as a child. The blue man throws a hissy fit because his alphabet soup doesn't contain all the letters of the alphabet! The grown-ups all drop everything for a game of Follow The Leader. (Oh, and speaking of the grown-ups, they're all wearing or not wearing their own wedding rings - the rings aren't part of the costume! So Bob has a wedding ring, but Gordon and Susan (who are married to each other) don't.) Gordon (who had a fro and sideburns!) and some kids are shooting hoops, and Gordon says "Let's get a game together, but first we need to count how many people we have." So he stops and they all count everyone, then they go back to just shooting hoops. In a scene about how everyone makes mistakes, Big Bird accidentally steps on his J, and Gordon says "Oh, that's okay, don't worry about it, I accidentally step on my J all the time." When I was little, I took this as absolutely normal, and thought it was very strange that I never saw a random W just sitting there on a little brick wall IRL. When I was just starting to learn to read, my parents either made or bought some little letters made of wood so then I had letters like on Sesame Street. I don't know if this is because at some point I expressed a wish for Sesame Street letters, or if they thought of it separately.

Actually, now that I think about it, one of the educational benefits of Sesame Street is that it normalized reading and counting and talking about letters and shapes and colours. Everyone on Sesame Street from children to muppets to grown-ups sometimes just stops everything and counts to 20, or thinks of things that start with B. This would actually be very useful for children because it models these skills on a level they can understand! Because I don't think small children would associate skimming the newspaper or paying for groceries with knowing your letters and numbers. When I was little, I used to think that boys couldn't do math, because I could clearly do math (and was better at it than most of the boys - and the girls - in my class) and my mother was a math teacher so she did math, but I never actually saw my father doing math. But of course he did - my father was a programmer and had investments and did home improvement projects that involved rulers and protractors and calculators and generally functioned in adult life, but I didn't think of any of this as math. Math was textbooks and worksheets and memorizing your times tables, and I just couldn't yet associate it with balancing your chequebook or calculating how much drywall you needed for the basement. So if other children's minds work similarly, Sesame Street could be really helpful just by normalizing the idea of reciting the alphabet or counting by twos.


Good morning! I hope everyone did their part for world peace.

Just a little something for the slow waning of the darkness:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Calling all triple threats

If you can sing, tap-dance, and play the trumpet, here's your audition piece:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Language commercial idea, free for the taking

There are commercials trying to convince people to learn another language. I'm not entirely sure why, but there are. (Examples: 1, 2, 3 (contains dirty language - don't play at work or within earshot of your parents or children).

I have an idea for another one.

Two people are in a cafe having what sounds like an intriguing personal conversation, except they're code-switching. The first language is the first language of the viewership, the second language is a language that the viewership is highly unlikely to understand. The conversation goes something like this:

A: So then he [other language]
B: With just his tongue????
A: Yes! And on top of that, he has the biggest [other language]!
B: Wow, so how did you deal with that? I mean your [other language] is kind of, you know...
A: Yeah, I know, [other language]. But it turns out he had been through this before, so he told me to just [other language].
B: You know, I never thought of that position before, but now that I picture it, it just might work!

So that's what the viewer hears. Now what they could do is if buzz picks up about this commercial but a translation doesn't become readily googleable, they could start running it with subtitles. Then the viewers will learn that the conversation is really something like this:

A: So then he kept accidentally pushing the instruments right out of my hand!
B: With just his tongue????
A: Yes! And on top of that, he has the biggest gag reflex I've seen in my 20 years as a dental hygiensit!
B: Wow, so how did you deal with that? I mean your hands are kind of, you know...
A: Yeah, I know, big, mannish, indelicate. But it turns out he had been through this before, so he told me to just recline the chair all the way back and stand right behind his head instead of to the side.
B: You know, I never thought of that position before, but now that I picture it, it just might work!

The overall effect should be funnier though, and the code-switching should be natural. But I'm too lazy to do this, so I'm giving the idea away.

The saddest thing I've ever seen

From this week's PostSecret.

My first thought is that I want to find whoever wrote that secret and give them a big messy snog - the kind where things get a bit more heated than you originally intended and you start veering towards the horizontal and your hands end up in unexpected places and the devil on your shoulder starts trying to convince you that under the circumstances it isn't really strictly necessary to slow down and have that conversation before you go further. (And all this despite the fact that even the slightest non-platonic kiss would violate two of the key principles of my personal ethics.)

My second thought is that I hope whoever wrote that secret gets just that kind of snog real soon, but from someone who doesn't know they wrote that secret, who never even read that secret, and maybe who doesn't even know they were in Iraq.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Do you want someone to rip your mask off?

This train of thought started with this Spacing post but wandered a bit and is now only tangental.

People in those comments talked about shaking people out of their routine and snapping them out of their zombie state. You hear about this a lot when people are talking about public space issues. It's also generally seen as something that's wrong with urban societies - for example, when I was taking courses at Mac, one classmate said she hated taking to GO to Toronto because everyone was wearing their masks.

This is always talked about as a problem to be solved in the third person. We have to snap them out of their zombie state, we have to get them to take their masks off. But you never hear it talked about in the first person. You never hear anyone saying "Oh, I just want someone to just pull me out of my daily routine and rip my mask right off!"

Is it really a problem for the people wearing the masks? When you, personally, have your mask on, are you wishing that someone would walk up and forceably rip it off?

This may just be me because I have a far higher tolerance for social disengagement than most people, but really, I'm fine. Sometimes I need my mask to protect myself (empirical evidence has demonstrated that my smiles are both beautiful enough to be remarked upon and easily misconstrued by the people I least want to misconstrue my intentions), but even when I'm perfectly safe, really I'm fine. I usually have my ipod, full of music and comedy, I usually have a good book with me, I'm mentally de-stressing and intellectually engaged. It is, quite simply, not a problem that needs solving. Are there people out there for whom it is?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Strange word choice

Toronto Hydro has also put staff on alert, to ensure they can work extra time to restore power if necessary. “It’s good that our customers get ready as well,” Thelma Hatzis of Toronto Hydro said. She said families should have flashlights with fresh batteries on hand and know that cordless phones won’t work if the electricity is down. They should also check in with elderly family members.

So singles and groups of roommates don't need flashlights?

(I know, I know, it's so not the point. It just really jumped out at me that someone landed on a word that doesn't encompass "everyone" and no one has edited it.)

Voice casting

In the song A Heart Full Of Love from Les Miz, Marius and Cosette fall in love and sing at each other, then Eponine turns up and laments that Marius never loved her.

The first thought that popped into my head when this came up on my ipod was "Of course, he didn't, you're the alto."

This made me decide that when I write my musical, the alto and the tenor will end up together. (The soprano will end up with the comic relief.) And when the big final love ballad is sung, I'll build the harmonies in contrary motion, so sometimes the alto ends up on top. Which just goes to show that disregarding traditional gender roles can spice up romance.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

More information please

Apparently sharing crack pipes can spread Hepatitis C.

So for those of us who aren't wise in the ways of crack pipes, does that mean sharing drinking glasses or cigarettes or kissing can also spread Hep C? Or is there some special characteristic of crack pipes? (I know that Hep C rates may be higher among drug users, but it's still quite possible that someone who doesn't know about crack pipes may find themselves sharing a drink or a kiss with a drug user.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Let's watch where we're pointing

Like many people, I've been thinking a lot about poor Aqsa Parvez.

A lot of commentators have been framing this as an immigration issue or a Muslim issue, but I don't think it is.

Aqsa Parvez, 16, who died Monday night after being attacked in her Mississauga home, wanted to hang out with friends instead of obeying her 5 p.m. curfew. She wanted to listen to rap, hip hop and R & B, which her parents didn't permit.

Vivacious and outgoing, Parvez wanted to dress like a Western woman in tight-fitting clothes and show off her long, dark hair by removing her hijab.

She wanted to be "free" and independent of her family's devout Muslim beliefs.

Think about your own adolescence. Did you ever want to hang out with friends instead of being home when your parents wanted you to? Did you ever want to listen to music they didn't want you to? Did you ever want to dress in a way they didn't want you to? Did you ever want to throw off the trappings of their values and be your own person?

This same drama is playing out in millions of households all around the world. There are, of course, variations. Perhaps instead of a hijab, the clothing in contention is hemlines or cleavage or heels. Perhaps instead of Muslim beliefs, it's Catholicism or Mormonism or Orthodox Judaism. But it is happening. And in some of these families, they do beat up their kids for not conforming. Hopefully in most they don't, but in some they do. I don't have statistics on hand to back this up, but I'd bet real money that within the next year, some other kid somewhere in the world will be killed by their parents in a similar dispute, and they won't be Muslim or a new immigrant.

So let's think carefully before labelling as an immigration issue or a Muslim issue. The real problem (if all the allegations are true - insert the word allegedly wherever legally necessary) is that the father thought threats and violence and controlfreakism were appropriate responses to a disagreement over fashion and pop culture.

A petition

Canadians: Please read this and sign if you're interested.

(Aside: Have you ever felt tempted to email a politician saying nothing but "Dude, WTF?")

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ping Python people

PythOnline seems to be undergoing another resurrection! (Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen)

On barely commuting

The Toronto Star is running a series on commuting. This makes me weep with joy that I live where I do and have such an easy commute. It seems the factor driving people to live so far away from their workplaces is that they want to live in the countryside near nature, so I'm also very happy that I don't need this. (I don't mean this in a smugly zen "Oh, look at me, I managed to free myself from my needs" sort of way, I just...don't need it, the same way I don't need to play hockey.)

It probably seems weird that I keep mentioning this, but it really took an astounding amount of self-knowledge and overcoming stereotypes for it to even occur to me to live here like this. When I was growing up, I was surrounded by values like "Houses good, apartments bad." and "Nature good and healthy and desireable, cities bad and smelly and crime-ridden and something to escape from." People lived in apartments and in cities when they were poor, when they were students or newlyweds, and then moved to houses in suburbs or in the country once they started making proper grownup white-collar money. The only person I knew who lived in an apartment was my friend who was being raised by a single mother who was sometimes on welfare (an unusual situation for that time and place). The only people I knew who lived in a city were my grandparents, who were considered poor in the way that seniors living in small houses on fixed incomes generally are. My parents would drive us by the shabby urban apartment building and the tiny urban house where they used to live before they had kids whenever they thought we were becoming ungrateful little brats. But in general, it wasn't even the sort of value your parents tried to instill in you, it was just there, unquestioned. Google = how you find stuff on the internet. Coffee = what to drink if you need a pick-me-up. Beatles = good music. And houses in the suburbs = good, apartments in the city = bad.

So to end up here, I had to have a personal paradigm shift on par with if you suddenly came to the realization that Google was useless to you. But reading about these commutes, I'm glad I did.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The evolution of clothing

I just started reading I Leap Over The Wall by Monica Baldwin, which is an autobiography of a woman who entered a convent in 1914 and left in 1944.

When she first left the convent, her sister came to pick her up and brought her the first civilian clothes she'd seen in 30 years. And her sister had to explain the underwear to her, because it had changed so much! In 1914, women's underwear was more or less what Scarlett O'Hara was wearing in the corset scene of Gone With The Wind (remember from the book, it said something like "Scarlett was wearing nothing but her shift, bloomers, stockings, corset, three petticoats..." etc. etc. big long list of underthings), and in the 1940s it was more bra, panties, girdle, garters and stockings. She didn't even know what a bra was! And her sister told her she couldn't possibly go out in the kind of clothing she was used to, because it simply was not worn at all ever any more. So she puts on the clothing and feels very overexposed with a knee-length skirt, sheer stockings, and a tailored blouse with a bra working its magic underneath.

I wonder if there is any other 30-year period in history when clothing changed so much? Like right now, if you showed today's clothes to someone from 1977, they wouldn't be terribly confused. Styles have changed, but it's essentially the same - pants, shirt, bra, panties, socks, shoes. If you showed them a thong they might go "WTF are you thinking?" but I'm sure a lot of people living today react that way too. Conversely, if you walked around in public in clothes from 30 years ago, no one would really notice. They'd probably think you're intentionally rocking a retro-70s look, but it looks deliberately retro or worst case a bit frumpy, not like you're a time traveller from the past. Even if you compared today's clothes with 50 years ago, it probably wouldn't be confusing. Yes, we're less tailored and pulled together; yes, women wear pants now way more than in 1957. But people in 1957 had seen women wear pants, they'd seen jeans and runners. They might tsk tsk at how social standards have deteriorated, but their minds wouldn't boggle at the clothes. And if we went out today dressed like 1957, we'd probably look well-tailored with a deliberate retro edge. It wouldn't be exactly What's Done, but it would look like a perfectly valid fashion statement. Even the underthings: bra, panties, girdle, garters, stockings - you can still get all those things today. You'd have to look and make an effort, but it's certainly available. If you went into a store and asked for a girdle with garter belts, worst case they'd think it's for bedroom play, which is a perfectly normal reason to be buying lingerie.

I also find myself wondering how women who came of age in the 1900s and 1910s felt about this evolution of fashion. If you turned 20 in, say, 1910, you were used to wearing long skirts and all-covering clothing and copious undergarments. And perhaps you developed your personal standards of modesty based on this. Then when the 1920s happened, you'd be into your 30s. Suddenly young women were wearing far less underwear and baring their arms and legs. You might not want to indulge in this, and feel there's no reason to at your age. But fashion was never going back! At some point, probably before your 40th birthday, you would no longer be able to buy petticoats or long full skirts. So what do you do then? I can't imagine simply no longer being able to buy clothes that don't meet my standards of modesty. Imagine if only thong underwear was commercially available! Imagine if there were no swimsuits whatsoever with that covered the breasts! Wouldn't that be utterly bizarre? And yet, for women who developed their sense of modesty before the 1920s, that's just what happened!

I wish I knew someone that age that I could ask about this. My grandmothers were born in the 1920s so they're not quite old enough, and I lost the last of my great-grandparents over a decade ago. Anyone have any centenarians around the house?

Things they DID invent: dog strollers!

I so called it!

Me a year ago.

The Toronto Star two days ago.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Flight of the Conchords can harmonize in robot voices

Emotional arcs

I had an interesting experience today - the writers out there may appreciate this.

Someone had written an account of a harrowing ordeal - the sort of thing you'd find in Readers Digest (and I don't mean this disparagingly, that's just the best way I can think of to explain the kind of ordeal involved). My co-worker was assigned to translate it, and I was asked to edit the translation. (This is a bit different from normal editing - we normally don't touch structure, but we're excruciatingly critical about word choice.)

First I read the text through for plot. I don't normally do this, but I was far more curious than usual about what happened. As I read I marked a couple things that I thought could be improved, but I didn't indicate how to improve them. I just wanted to see what happened. My reaction at the end of that was "Wow, that was a pretty harrowing ordeal," but emotionally it didn't have much more impact than a newspaper article.

Then I went back to do proper editing, thinking of ways to improve the things I'd marked, making sure that everything was clear so the reader doesn't have to make any effort to understand, making sure that it sounded natural in English. I tweaked a few places, replaced one or two awkward metaphors with more typically English cliches (a good thing in translation), inserted a few synonyms, and re-ordered one or two sentences to make sure the emphasis was where it needed to be.

My reaction at the end of this was like I had gone through an emotional experience. Not the most hard-core of emotional experiences - it was like a perfectly serviceable episode of television drama that had nothing wrong with it but never knocked you off your feet - but completely unlike anything I've had before from work.

I don't normally work on material with emotional arcs. If it has a plot, it's either set out as a series of facts, or it's supporting a thesis to convince the reader of something. But this one was simply telling a story of an ordeal, for people who have never been through that sort of ordeal. I've gone through emotions when translating material with difficult subject matter, but you really have to get inside the text when translating (I find it's more mentally intensive than writing itself, although not everyone agrees on that) so you generally experience the plot from far more inside than the average reader does. I always figured editing was more on the surface, and I certainly didn't expect that it would be so much more emotionally involving than simply reading, especially after I'd already experienced the plot. The emotional arc had already been built by the author and renovated by the translator; I was just walking around with touch-up paint, and yet I came out feeling like I had been sawing wood and hammering nails all day too.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Quote of the moment

"A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together." - Garrison Keillor

That is precisely why I dislike it so much.

I keep my home secular and xmas-free for the same reason you batten down the hatches against a storm. I shudder at the idea of an xmas party at work for the same reason you'd shudder if your boss said "I have an idea! Let's all go outside and frolic in the thunderstorm!" I hate early arrival of xmas shit in stores for the same reason you'd hate having the stores overrun with umbrellas and raincoats in anticipation of a storm coming next week when all you really need is a sunhat for the sunny day forecast tomorrow. I hate xmas music for the same reason you'd hate the song "Singing in the Rain" if it was played in all public space whenever there are raindrops in the forecast.

If xmas were just this thing that happened organically, I wouldn't care. But it's so fucking in your face all the time, it just make sme want some peace and quiet.

In the words of Eddie Izzard, get your slander correct

"I tried to sell the niqab during the Taliban time but they got mad at me," shopkeeper Ahmed Shah told the Toronto Star. "The Vice and Virtue Department came to my shop and accused me of polluting with Western ways. They beat me, they took away my niqab and told me never to try this again."

Yes, you heard right, a niqab.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Spins on the dinner party question

We all know the question: Choose X people, living or dead, to invite to a dinner party. The real question they're asking is who you'd want to have a conversation with and why.

But let's play with this a bit.

What if, instead of having a dinner party, you got to have a one-on-one conversation with each person?

Suppose, in addition to interesting conversations, you also had to have a successful dinner party where everyone had charming conversation and a good time?

What if the dead people could tell you about death and whatever, if anything, happened afterwards?

Suppose you could feed the guests Veritaserum? (This assumes that they'd have their normal inhibitions under the standard dinner party, which I think people sometimes forget or disregard when answering that question.)

Suppose you could include fictional characters?

Suppose, instead of a dinner party, it was a game of truth or dare?

What if it was a book club? Which book would you read?

Suppose any language barriers between everyone involved do exist?

Suppose the guests know each other by reputation? Suppose they've somehow never heard of each other? Suppose some have and some haven't as would happen organically IRL? (e.g. Hitler knows Jesus by reputation, but not vice versa).

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I turn 27 later this month. I've been mulling that over, and I like it. I think it sounds like a properly grownup age. 25 and 26 worked that way a bit - demographics tend to do 18-24 or 18-25 as an age group so I had aged out of that group when taking surveys and stuff - but 27 feels older. Which is odd because internally I'm still the same person I was when I was 9, and when I look in the mirror I see the same person I was at 13 (with a better figure, less acne, and better glasses, but I don't think I look older, just better put-together). I feel both like I should be acting more grownup, and that I can relax a bit and be secure in my adulthood. So on one hand I'm buying books on real estate, and on the other hand I'm wearing a red coat instead of sensible black.

The one thing I'm going to have to get used to though is not being in an exceptional place for my age. Because I was born in December and because I was lucky enough not to have any major stumbles in my educational career, I was 13 when I started high school, 16 when I started taking OACs, 18 when I started uni, and 22 when I got my current job and my first very own apartment. All of those are just a bit young, just young enough to be interesting and make people think I'm perhaps a bit exceptional. But at 27 I am (as perceived by the outside world) in the same place I was when I was 22, which is perfectly respectable but no longer exceptional. Which is fine - I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be that doesn't involve a lottery win or a miraculous convergence of factors outside my control - but does require that I change my way of thinking before I make a fool of myself.

In praise of windows

I'm sitting here watching it snow. It's -7 with a windchill of -14. The wind is blowing directly at me at 30 km/h. And I am perfectly comfortable.

Usually when we appreciate technology it's newer things, but, when you think about it, it's awesome (like at least a million hotdogs) that we have the technology to make big clear windows that still keep the cold and the wind out.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Post your Bach recommendations here!

I need more Bach on my iPod, but I'm utterly overwhelmed by the options available.

I'm looking for something that does for my brain what the Goldberg Variations does. Yesterday, while I was struggling with an particularly gruesome medical translation, my iPod serendipitously gave me the Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould's 1981 version, if you're interested). The counterpoint just soothed my distraught brain and got me through the text. It was like my brain was enjoying a hot bath and a glass of wine and a massage. I need more music like that.

While I am aware of the historical context, I don't want anything that screams "Look at me, I belong in a church!" (played on the organ, sung by a choir, etc.) My negative associations with the church are just too strong. Also, I don't want anything that's so well-known it's become a cliche and can be reduced to a ringtone. For example, despite their contrapuntal virtues, I am completely immune to Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, or Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I'll take non-Bach recommendations too if you have some, but I do think it has to be Baroque counterpoint.

Recommendations of specific recordings would be great, but if you're not a recording geek I'll take specific pieces too.