Thursday, January 31, 2008

Things They Should Invent: stop tasing people as part of training

Often much is made of the fact that police officers and taser salespeople get tased as part of their training.

I think this is a shitty idea and they should stop it immediately.

Why? Because the person being tased might live.

Stick with me, I'm going somewhere with this.

Every once in a while people die from being tased, and we aren't sure exactly why. They don't know when they tase a person whether they'll die or not. So a taser isn't actually a safe stun gun, it isn't like setting your phaser to stun, it's a randomly lethal weapon. Believe me, if they were reliable never-lethal stun guns, I'd have one in my night table and one in my purse - whether they were legal or not!

If you've never been tased, you appreciate how they're randomly lethal, because you have no idea whether you'd survive a tasing or not (and what you'd experience while dying). But if you've been tased and then walked away with nothing more than a bit of a headache (or whatever), then you're more likely to think "Hey, it's no big deal! I've survived it myself!"

New Rule: stop staying "Googlegänger", start saying "Doppelgoogler"

It has come to my attention that people are using the word "Googlegänger" to mean another person who comes up when you google yourself.

Good, well-intentioned coinage, but unfortunately it's wrong.

Googlegänger is a blend of "Google" and the German "Dopplegänger", meaning an exact double of a person. "Dopplegänger" itself is a blend of "dopple" meaning double, and "gänger" meaning literally "goer".

So as you can see, whoever coined "Googlegänger" inadvertently chose the wrong part of Dopplegänger to retain. A more accurate word would be "Doppelgoogler".

As a special incentive program, I have been authorized to permit anyone who switches from Googlegänger" to "Doppelgoogler" to use an umlaut on the O of their choice for purely aesthetic reasons, even though it is lexically incorrect.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How to be funny

Anything can be funny, no matter how offensive. The trick is, it has to be funnier than it is offensive. You get positive points for funny, you get negative points for offensive. If your net result is >0, you're funny. In theory, you can say something that's -10^100 offensive, and it will work if and only if it's +(10^100)+1 funny. This is why Sarah Silverman tends to work for me.

The thing most people don't realize is the audience gets to delegate these points however they like. The comedian doesn't get any say in it (which is why people who insist that they're funny even when the audience doesn't agree come across as mad crazy assholic). If the audience finds it more offensive than it is funny, the comedian loses.

I had this big long explanation about how to calculate whether something is going to be offensive to the audience, but I just realized it comes down to one simple thing: if the audience identifies with the victim of the joke, and they feel like the comedian is a threat to them - like the comedian wants to hurt them and then laugh at them for it.

So if a comedian wants to tell a joke with an offensive element to it and wants to maximize the chances of the audience finding it funny, what they have to do is disarm themselves and/or empower the audience until they get to the point where even if they audience identifies with the victim, the comedian is so powerless ineffective that they couldn't actually hurt the victim. Again, I think this is why Sarah Silverman works - her character is such an ineffective person that she couldn't successfully act on her offensive impulses even if she tried. (I can't think of an example offhand, but I have seen comedians go too far with this, casting themselves as the victim in a that I can identify with, and leaving me uncomfortable because now I feel like the whole world wants to hurt me and laugh at me for it.)

As usual, Eddie Izzard is very good at this. In his Heimlich Manoeuvre bit, he takes a joke just up to the point where he's about to pose a threat to the audience, then promptly disarms himself, all in about 30 seconds.

The part I'm talking about starts at 2:00:

Watch from 2:00 to 2:22, then pause just after he says "Your hymen's been removed?... You need it removed?"

Now if this joke were being worked out for the first time, the obvious next step would be for him to thrust his groin or something. But that would ruin everything. The audience would be sitting there, imagining themselves choking to death in a restaurant, and suddenly someone comes up and starts trying to have sex with them. That's not fun at all!

Now press play and watch how Eddie gets himself out of this one.

First he mimes surgical equipment - pretend surgical equipment that doesn't exist in reality. So now whatever this idiot has in mind, at least he isn't going to try to stick his dick in you while you're choking to death. Then he says "I don't know how to remove a hymen." BOOM, threat eliminated. He doesn't even know to stick his dick in places, so he's no threat at all! In fact, since the audience does know how to remove a hymen, he's put us in the position of power. We can now feel slightly superior in any number of ways, ranging from "Good, let's keep it that way," to "Come on, we don't believe that for a minute," to "Why don't you come here and I'll show you?" That's got just about everyone in the audience covered.

The net effect isn't hugely funny, but it does end up with positive points because he was able to make his little "Heimlich manoeuvre sounds like hymen removal" joke while not making anyone in the audience feel like he wants to rape us while we're choking to death or would think it's funny if someone raped us while choking to death. And all because he's willing to swallow his ego enough to pretend for a moment that he doesn't know how to have sex.

Let's all stop being feminists

From last Saturday's Globe and Mail: Is Feminism Going Out of Style?

This article has inspired me: let's declare feminism obsolete! I have a much better idea anyway:

Every time you have an opinion that would normally fall under the category of feminism, pluralize it in a gender-inclusive way.

Instead of 10 million women use prescription contraception, 10 million Canadian families rely on prescription contraception (heterosexist, yes, but perhaps that's a safe bet since we're talking contraception?)

Instead of women in Prince Edward Island don't have access to abortion, the entire province of Prince Edward Island is without access to abortion!

Instead of the media is paying too much attention to Hilary Clinton's clothes and husband, the media is paying too much attention to presidential candidates' clothes and spouses instead of focusing on the real issue!

These aren't women's issues, thus declaring them irrelevant to half the population. These are major social issues that affect people everywhere!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stupidest thing ever EVER!

So it seems some pathetic losers who need to get a life are going to picket Heath Ledger's funeral. Because apparently he once played a gay character in some movie or another.

Apart from how tasteless and idiotic that is, I have a serious question:

What, specifically, are they trying to accomplish?

I mean that literally. When you're picketing or protesting, you have a specific tangible goal. You want a better collective agreement or you want trans fats banned or you want war to stop. Usually if the right person signs a piece of paper that says the right thing, you've won.

But in this case, what is their goal? He can't UNplay a gay character. And even if he could, he's dead now so he can't do anything about it.

(Aside: when I hear about things like this, sometimes my first thought is that someone of the same sex should walk up to them and give them a big ol' snog. Which of course is completely inappropriate - everyone should have the right to go around in public and even protest stupid things in public without having unwanted snogging forced on them. Plus it disturbs me that I'm thinking in terms of using sexuality as a weapon. But I do wonder what the legal status would be if you gave them due warning: "If you keep gaybashing him, I will kiss you - with tongue! If you shut up now, I will not kiss you." And then they keep up with the gaybashing so you kiss them. Would that be any less assault than unwanted snogging with no warning?)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Did someone die?

From my normally eerily prescient iTunes:

Aerosmith's Full Circle
k.d. lang's cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah
The Beatles' Let It Be

If someone died, I think I'm going to delete all my music and never listen to music again...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Religious theory

I have a bunch of long posts in mind, and I'm too lazy to type them all out. So instead here's my latest religious theory:

If the messiah is in fact going to be born of a virgin impregnated by the holy spirit as postulated in the bible, it has already happened.

Why? Because between 2000 years of missionaries and evangelism, and today's mass media capabilities, everyone's already heard the story. So here's how it would go down today:

Archangel Gabriel: "Do not be afraid, for I bring you glad tidings. You have been blessed among women!"
Virgin: "Oh no you don't! I heard what happened to the last girl you said that to!"


The only thing worse than googling something and accidentally landing on one of my own translations is googling something and landing on a text that contains all the worst features of my translations, but I can't tell if it's something I did or if someone else just wrote it in English in a way that sounds like my translations.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Apartment etiquette question

There are two flyers on my neighbour's door, and they've been there for a couple of days. It kind of screams "I'm not home!" I have never, to my knowledge, met the people* who live there and have no idea whether or not they're home. The only people who will see the flyers on the door are people who live on or have business on this floor, unless someone is specifically skulking through the building casing the joint.

One flyer is advertising from the developer advertising another one of its developments, the other is information from management on how an ongoing problem is being addressed (sort of falls under "Good to know" but doesn't require action).

Should I take the flyers off? Should I recycle them? Should I attempt to slip them under the door (doesn't always work depending on how the door is) and risk being caught messing around on my neighbour's door?

*Interesting that I assume multiple people live there, even though it's a one-bedroom that I'd consider too small for a couple. I was talking to my newspaper carrier the other day, and he also assumed that two people live in my apartment. I did nothing to disavow him of the notion, if that is in fact the proper use of disavow. I'm too lazy to google it but apparently not too lazy to type out this whole sentence.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Dr. Morgentaler looks frighteningly like my father. Every time I see a picture of him, I get this massive wave of cognitive dissonance.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My kingdom for a time machine

It's one of those "Do the impossible at any price" situations at work, so it looks like I'll be incommunicado for the rest of the week.

If you're bored, look up Danny Bhoy on Youtube. He's far better than I expected.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Trusting strangers

This is a tangent to a larger post I've got festering in my brain, but I think it's turned into its own separate idea:

We all know that in general the prudent thing, for women especially, is to have a certain wariness of strange men (if you care to discuss this point, wait for my next post on the subject; for this post we're taking it as a given). I've heard a number of times of situations where the men involved take offence at this - like when a woman steps back from the curb as they pull up in their car, or waits for the next elevator, or namedrops her boyfriend, or turns up the chill as a precautionary measure, they take offence that she is apparently presuming they're rapists or they're only after one thing or whatever. I can't speak to the mindset behind this attitude or the actual trustworthiness of the people who feel this way, I've just heard from several discrete sources that it exists.

However, I'm the complete opposite in terms of my expectations. I'm always a wee bit surprised when people trust me. I start talking to a baby (my ovaries make me!) and its grownup is amused and sometimes even actively encourages the "conversation." A fellow resident whom I don't actually know holds the access-control door open for me instead of making me beep myself in. I'm short a quarter, the coffee shop lady spots me from the tip jar and says I can get it next time. The beepy security label is right on the back of the waistband of the pants - the part that's crucial to whether they gap or not - and the saleslady is all "Sure, no problem," when I ask her if she could possibly remove it.

Now, I am trustworthy. I'm not going to steal your baby or rob your apartment or shoplift your pants or cheat you out of your quarter. But people have no way of knowing that. I mean, they can probably tell by looking at me that I couldn't beat them up, but apart from that I'm still a complete stranger without any particular credentials. I know part of the reason why I'm surprised people trust me is because in childhood and adolescence they didn't because of my youth, so going into a store and not being treated like a shoplifter is somewhat novel. But mostly I'm surprised because they have no particular reason to trust me any more than anyone else.

I think it would be interesting to study this in broader society. Who are the people who expect to be trusted on the basis that they are in fact trustworthy? Who are the people who don't expect to be trusted on the basis that they are strangers? Which of these people are actually trustworthy? How much do they trust strangers? Does their empirical experience of being trusted or not affect what they expect from strangers?

Band name, free for the taking

I think Eisbär-Baby would make a good band name. In English, at least - it would probably sound ridiculous in German. (For those of you who don't read German, anything on that page with the word "Bild" in it is going to have adorable pictures.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I wonder if there's a comedy kissing etiquette

I'm watching Whose Line, and I noticed that when people kiss - even if it's making out type kissing - they don't move their lips at all. They just press their mouths together and use their other body language to communicate that they're supposed to be making out. At first I thought it was just because the boys didn't want to kiss each other too enthusiastically, but it happens in boy-girl kisses too.

Now I know that in film and TV and theatre when characters are kissing, the actors kiss properly. But I haven't seen that much improv outside of Whose Line and I've never paid much attention to kissing in sketch comedy etc. I wonder if this is some general rule of stage etiquette in improve and/or sketch comedy, or if it's just exclusive to American Whose Line?

What I appreciate about Ugly Betty

One thing I really appreciate about Ugly Betty is that Betty has a sex life, and no one makes a big deal of the fact. Yes, some of the catty people at Mode have commented that they don't want that mental picture, but no one has ever said or implied "OMG, you get sex even though you're ugly?"

It was once mentioned that a certain night was Betty and Henry's first night together, but it was never implied that Betty was a virgin then, which means she's had at least one partner before. Yes, it was probably Walter, and yes, Walter is unappealing. But Henry is smart and kind and attractive and clearly loves and respects Betty. Yes, he is labelled as a dork and given ridiculous glasses, but he still is an appealing person. Plus he could get with Charlie (who is probably the prettiest non-plastic person on the show), but there is never even a hint of "You could have Charlie and you went for Betty????" or any mention that he's so good to be able to see beyond the superficial. It is simply presented as an unquestioned given that Betty has sex just like anyone else.

My adolescent self could really have benefited from seeing that - someone who looks like me and is presented as just as unattractive as I was (and who is/was bullied and belittled by the cool girls) gets to have sex with an appealing partner (and, at the age of 23, has had at least one other partner) and this isn't even unusual enough to be worth commenting on, overtly or tacitly.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Best sleepwalk ever?

Last night I went to bed wearing black socks.

This morning I woke up wearing white socks.

I was alone in the apartment all night and have no memory of dreaming or waking up.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Stupidest rule ever of the day

So they're making a rule that men who've had sex with another man in the past five years can't be organ donors.

Okay, so here's the thing: you've got a braindead corpse being kept alive by machines until you can figure out whether any of his organs can be used.

How do you know who he's had sex with and how he had sex with them and when he had sex with them?

The only possible way you can find out is to ask other people.

Now if his next of kin is his same-sex partner, you've got your answer right there. But if his next of kin is a family member, he may or may not be out to them, depending on family dynamics. And it's also less likely they'll know when and with whom he has had sex. Do you know when and with whom your immediate family members have had sex? Do they know this about you? You can probably hazard a guess, but most likely don't know for sure.

But if he has had sex with men but not out to his family, you're not going to be able to get correct information. If he has had sex with men and his next of kin is his wife, you'll probably get information that's patently wrong. If he's highly closeted, on the downlow or going to sex workers (or being a sex worker), not only are his survivors not going to know about his activities, but it's more likely that he's engaging in riskier activities.

Basically, the riskier the prospective donor's activities, the less likely it is that the transplant team will be able to get accurate information about them. So this rule isn't going to accomplish a damn thing.

What they should be doing instead is working on a way to test donated organs for HIV or whatever else, like how they test all the blood that's going into the blood bank.

Am I reading these numbers right?

Check out the chart at the bottom of this article. (I can't copy it here, the formatting won't hold.)

It looks like it's saying that 10,714,415 prescriptions for contraception were dispensed in Canada in the last year, 9,890,599 of which were for oral contraceptives.

Is that what it's saying? Because that is a shitload of contraception! Don't get me wrong, I love contraception, I'm just not sure if the numbers can work out.

The population of Canada is 33 million. So that means that nearly 1/3 of all Canadians are on some kind of contraception. But only women would be taking these prescriptions. So that means that 2/3 of all females are using contraception. But contraception is biologically unnecessary before adolescence and after the age of about fifty, not to mention women who are trying to conceive or pregnant or not sexually active or tubalized or using non-prescription contraception or whose partner is female or whose partner is vasectomized. Does this work out? Is there actually room in our population for 33 million for 10 million women who are in the market for contraception? Or am I missing something?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Eddie Izzard gets political

Eddie-baby (a.k.a. Frank) gets political, gets a standing O from George Clooney, confuses Angelina Jolie, and manages to incorporate the words "toilet" and "poo."

(Aside: is it just me, or do at least two of those documentaries sound like made-up comedy descriptions?)

Sibling rivalry

A writer in the Globe and Mail proposes that parents shouldn't mediate their kids' sibling conflicts, instead leaving the kids to work it out themselves.

Here's what I want to know: how exactly does he think the kids are going to work out their conflicts? Because when I was a kid, I didn't have any secret conflict-resolution skills that I was lazily not using - I seriously had no idea whatsoever how to get my sister to leave me alone. In fact, even with my adult interpersonal skills, I still have no idea how I could have gotten her to leave me alone within the limitations placed on me as a kid.

As an example, let's look at the most annoying and pervasive sibling problem I had: my sister would keep opening the door when I was in my room with the door closed. It didn't matter what I was doing, it didn't matter if there was a risk that I was changing clothes, it didn't matter if I had just gone into my room and closed the door specifically to get away from her, she would keep trying to open the door. If I blockaded the door, she'd keep pushing at it trying to get in. Countless hours were wasted pitting my superior mass against her superior strength, trying to get her to leave me the fuck alone so I could have a moment's peace. (This also meant I could never let my guard down even when in my own room with the door closed because I never knew when she'd come by and open the door, so if I wanted real privacy I had to physically barricade the door, which was also difficult because I'm not strong enough to move the larger pieces of furniture single-handedly.

So how would Mr. Wolf have my adolescent self solve this problem?

My adult self can think of a number of approaches. The first thing I'd do if this happened to me today is say "Well, if you aren't going to respect my basic need for privacy, I'll just be going home then." Then I'd go home. But as a kid I didn't have my very own apartment in an access-controlled building, conveniently located in another city. If someone was trying to open the door to my apartment despite my attempts to keep them out, I'd call the police. I think I could even make an argument for calling the police if I had a housemate who was trying to open the door to my bedroom despite my attempts to keep them out. But calling the police because your little sister is bugging you is considered frivolous, and even if it was an option I didn't have a phone line in my room or a cellphone of my own. Another thing I could do as an adult is install some locks on the door to my room, but when I was a kid my parents wouldn't let me do this. I suppose as a last resort, my adult self would go and crash elsewhere, with a friend or at a hotel, but as a kid I couldn't do this either.

But even now, pushing 30, passing as a competent adult in a professional work environment on a daily basis, having even taken conflict resolution training, I still haven't the slightest idea how my adolescent self could have resolved that situation with all the restrictions placed on her, short of going "Moooom, make her leave me alone!" So I'd love to know how exactly Mr. Wolf thinks adolescents are going to resolve their own sibling rivalry.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Talk shows

Some sources say that Leno, Stewart, Colbert, etc. aren't allowed to write their own material during the writers strike.

Thing is, they can't stop them. And I'm not trying to imply that talk show hosts are going to flaunt union rules. Even if everyone wants to obey the union rules to the letter and the consequences are as severe as humanly possible, they are still going to write material for themselves, whether they want to or not.

Why? Imagine this: you're going to be on TV tonight. There's no getting out of it. And no one is going to provide you with the script. Just you, the cameras, and thousands (millions?) of viewers.

You're mentally writing material already, aren't you?

It's humanly impossible not to write for yourself under these circumstances.

This whole situation also has me wondering how talk shows work. Under normal circumstances, do the shows seek out the guests, or do the guests seek out the shows? Because getting a really good guest is a coup for a talk show, but being on a talk show is a coup for an unknown. So who's chasing whom?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What should I do with an unwanted lightbulb?

I bought a specialty lightbulb for this lamp I have that takes weird bulbs, but it turned out to be the wrong kind of lightbulb. I don't want to return it to the store because I bought it at a supermarket and it only cost a couple of bucks (and they don't have the kind of bulb I really need, so I'd be tying up the customer service line during rush hour for a refund that isn't even enough for paper money).

So now I just have this weird lightbulb that no one in the world uses. I don't and never will have any use for it, but I don't want to just throw a perfectly good lightbulb in the garbage. Any thoughts on what I can do with it?

My new favourite lego animation

Okay, I was (and still am) impressed by the Lego Eddie Izzard sketches, but this is even better. A Lego version of Weird Al's White & Nerdy!

And if you're going WTF, this is the original.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Things I Don't Understand: not posting prices or floorplans

I've been looking at condo websites lately, and some of them make no mention whatsoever of price, and/or don't provide floor plans for suites.

What on earth is their motivation in doing that? This is the most basic of information! Why wouldn't they want their website to answer "Should I even bother looking?" Why would they want people to come all the way to their sales centre just to find out that the building has nothing to offer them? Yes, granite countertops and a state-of-the-art fitness centre are nice, but they're meaningless if the whole building is out of your price range or if there isn't enough room in the suite layout for you to manoeuvre your wheelchair.

Things They Should Invent: transposable kareoke

You know how some songs are just in a bad key, so you either have to sing them uncomfortably high or uncomfortably low for your vocal range? They should make kareoke machines that can overcome this problem by transposing the songs at the touch of a button, so if your favourite song is in a bad key you can sing it half an octave higher.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dispatch from behind the lines of the War on Christmas

I have a shocking confession to make. The allegations are true, there really is a War on Christmas, and I am one of its operatives. And I am here today to tell you all about our modus operandi.

I could get done for treason for confessing this, but it's a matter of conscience. Lately many innocent civilians have been accused of being our operatives, and given what happens to suspected enemy combattants these days I feel the need to protect these innocent civilians by disclosing our true methods.

Misconception: We say things like "Happy Holidays!" and "Season's Greetings!"
Fact: We say things like "Good morning!" and "Have a nice day!"

Misconception: We play music like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Jingle Bells"
Fact: We play music like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"

Misconception: We decorate with pine trees and snowflakes
Fact: We decorate with throw pillows and area rugs

Misconception: We try to convince you to buy buy buy the most perfect present ever for every single person you've ever met.
Fact: We wish you'd stop it with the fucking shopping already because we just want to pick up a carton of milk and some toilet paper without waiting in all these fucking lines!

Misconception: We're the ones suggesting that the the office or the school or whatever have a "holiday party" or a "winter party" with potluck and gifts.
Fact: We're the ones suggesting that we all pool our money and order pizza since we're all going to be working through lunch and eating at our desks anyway.

Misconception: We think that Christmas is really a pagan holiday so everyone should celebrate it regardless of how religious they feel about it.
Fact: We think that Christmas is on a Tuesday so we should watch that DVD since there's nothing on TV anyway.

So remember: If someone greets you with "Happy Holidays" while buying plastic snowmen that sing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" for their "seasonal celebration", they're just an innocent civilian with a questionable sense of taste. Our operatives are much more insidious than that. The people you really want to watch out for are the ones who say "Hi, how are you? How was your weekend?" while shopping for bread, eggs, and argyle socks and listening to Radiohead.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Another characteristic of the two solitudes

I've noticed that Francophones and Anglophones seem to have different relationships with their mother tongues. When I ask an Anglophone to read something and tell me about the meaning, they tell me the message they get from it first, and reach for a dictionary second. When I ask a Francophone the same thing, they reach for the Robert first and only give me the instinctive vibe they get from the text if I specifically ask them to do so. It's like Francophones are more prescriptive and Anglophones are more descriptive - for them, the language is more a set of rules that needs to be followed, and for us it's more a tool to make do what we want.

I always find it interesting when I see this characteristic manifested in the broader culture, outside my usual niche of the language professions. For example, I just saw an ad on TV for Desjardins, with the motto "conjuguer avoirs et êtres".

We could never have that in English! Could you imagine, a financial institution with a motto that's a play on words of grammatical rules? But in French, it's appropriate and decently witty!

My first thought is that this is a sign of anti-intellectualism in our culture - any mention of grammar would be seen as pretentious or elitist or ridiculously fussy - but I think it's more complicated than that. We seriously do have different relationships with our languages. Verb conjugation is more important in French because there are more things that need to happen there and more ways of getting it wrong (and, more importantly, of getting it wrong in a way that changes the meaning), while spelling is more important in English. That's why they have dictées while we have spelling bees.

That's an area for further research, if it hasn't been done yet (watch me once again fall into the trap of blogging without googling). Do the language mistakes that are most likely to change meaning affect/reflect the people's relationship with their language?