Wednesday, June 30, 2010

G20 braindump

This is not complete, comprehensive, organized, or well-structured. I might add more later or I might repurpose material into better-organized posts. Right now I just need to clear out my head. (I had a good, structured blog post that took all my panic and fear and emotions and expressed it in a way that's informative to others for whom this is all non-immediate, but it took a long time to write and I got too sleepy before I could finish it. So I made an outline of the rest and went to bed. But Blogger ate my outline! I almost feel like this is a conspiracy.)

1. I've been thinking a lot about laws and society lately, even before this all started. I think I like laws. If people are following laws because they're the law (rather than just so as to not be a dick), then laws make life easy. I don't have to fight for my life when I walk down the street. My employer pays me the amount due on the proper date. Stores sell me their products at the posted price. This is good. It makes life easy. And then, instead of having to ceaselessly stand up for myself in every area of life, I can put my energies into learning and thinking and translating and creating, which makes life more pleasant and I think allows me to make a greater contribution to society as a whole. So that got me thinking about why I follow laws and, more than that, why I'm Being Good. Being Good is doing what's right, what's expected of you. Here I'm using it as shorthand to mean that I got a job, go to work, try to be nice to people, try not to mess stuff up, etc. I thought about this long and hard - I've never had to articulate it before! - and I came to the conclusion that it's because I like to be comfortable. I like places where there's nothing crawling out of the walls. I like hot showers and air conditioning and comfy chairs and everything I ever want to eat or drink at my fingertips.

After reading about what happened at Queen and Spadina and then about the detention conditions, I'm utterly terrified because the law, which has always served to make me comfortable as long as I'm Being Good, is now being use to grab people who were Being Good and make them uncomfortable.

So what's my motivation to continue obeying the law? But the thing is, I'm a shy, quiet, stay-at-home kind of person. I'm not likely to break the law too badly just because most of what I want to do is already legal. But what's other people's - people who are more interested in doing things that are illegal - motivation to continue obeying the law?

2. Currently, there exists empirical evidence that the police want to grab me when I'm walking down the street, detain me for hours with no protection from the elements, deprive me of water and give me only food that will make me thirstier, lock me in a crowded room with vomit on the floor, prevent me from being able to use the bathroom for hours and hours and then make me go where people are watching and there is no toilet paper, restrain my arms and then beat me (as though they couldn't already beat me up unrestrained), and sexually harass and sexually assault me. On the other hand, there is empirical evidence that the black bloc people want to vandalize property and taunt people whom they perceive to be part of the problem. The worst thing I could imagine them doing is beating me up if they perceive me to be part of the problem (and I haven't heard any anecdotes of them actually beating someone up), and I'd much rather be beaten up and then at least get to go home than be detained for 36 hours (which might still involve being beaten up).

3. People say I have nothing to worry about if I'm not doing anything wrong. But being denied use of a bathroom for hours and hours, being boxed in on the street and unable to leave, being locked up and denied water - that's something to worry about. To me, that's practically torture. (Yes, there are many worse ways to torture, but that doesn't negate its tortuousness.) People say the police are only trying to protect me, but this is all a threat from which I need protection. In fact, it might be a greater threat than any other I face. If some random bad guy tries to attack me or abduct me in the street, it is possible for other people to jump in and stop him. If some random bad guy tries to attack me in my home, it will likely at least be over in less than an hour. I've also heard people say there's no need to worry because it's just a one-off thing because of the G20. WTF? None of the don't worry people saw this coming beforehand. I didn't hear anyone say "Now, they might grab you off the street on the way to work and lock you up for 36 hours because of the G20, but that's just because of this G20 thing and it isn't going to be happening again." So what other future circumstances aren't they seeing? (Not to say it would be acceptable even if it were just a one-time thing, but if that were true it would at least reduce future worrying.)

4. Analogy:

Are you in love with me? You should be, you know! You should love me! I'm lovable! Sure, I'm not perfect, but who is? I'm just a decent human being doing my best. You'd better love me, because if not you're going to be alone forever or stuck with some idiot!

That's not going to make you love me, now is it? Even if everything I've said there is true, it's not enough to make you love me. I'd need to provide evidence of my loveability, over a long period of time and ideally through some adversity.

Now imagine if there were a bunch of people out there, saying that they're my former lovers, all with stories of how unlovable I am. Some of these people are public figures with a reputation to maintain, for whom there would be no benefit in repeating this information if it weren't true. Their stories are all consistent, pointing to clear patterns of behaviour (as opposed to being one-off flukes), and some of them are backed up with photographic and video evidence.

In that case, I'd have to work even harder to make you love me. I'd have to show, over an even longer period of time and with greater reliability, that it's safe to love me. I'd also probably have to articulate to you what has changed that will prevent this unlovable behaviour from recurring in the future. If I said "Oh, I was doing that because I once had a lover who treated me poorly," that wouldn't be enough to mitigate your concerns. I would need to give you clear specifics of what has changed that this incident in the past will no longer be a problem in the future, and also show positive behaviour over the long-term, including through the kinds of adversity that triggered my previous unlovable behaviour. The more you hear, the more you can't just love me.

This is why I can't just trust the police, no matter how much people tell me I should trust them.

5. I do wonder how much the intimidating sight of massive hoards of police in riot gear led to the escalation.


Imagine you're walking down the street. About 100 metres in front of you, there are half a dozen large, intimidating men, dressed thuggishly. (Whatever you, personally, consider thuggish.)

- Imagine they're sitting on a patio, eating and drinking.
- Imagine they're standing outside a building, smoking and shouting things at passers-by
- Imagine they're standing outside a building, smoking and talking among themselves.
- Imagine one of them has a puppy, and the rest of them are all petting and admiring it.
- Imagine they're all standing in a row, arms folded, blocking your path.
- Imagine they're huddled around a car that has its hood up.
- Imagine they're sitting around drinking beers somewhere where you're not suppose to be drinking, with empty bottles scattered around them.

Your reaction would be somewhat different in these different scenarios, wouldn't it? If one of them called out to you, you'd react differently. Might this not have escalated if, at first sight, the police presence was more like what we're accustomed to seeing?

6. And what are we to make of the fact that the reason given for not stopping the black bloc people from wrecking the city was that they were trying to protect the fence? (The Globe & Mail says the fence was 6 km long, and I've heard numbers ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 for the number of police officers. What were they doing, standing shoulder to shoulder around the fence? Why bother with a fence then?) So they're letting the city get wrecked to protect a precious few elite? Just how many people were behind the fence anyway? Wouldn't it be awesome if some world leader showed the noblesse oblige to say to their security people "Do what you need to do to protect me, but only if it doesn't inconvenience the citizens I represent."?

7. They said they did the massive sweep at Queen & Spadina because they thought some of the people in the intersection were black bloc people dressed in civvies. But how am I supposed to know the back stories of the people in the intersection with me? In a typical crowded intersection on a beautiful day there are like 100 people. What, specifically, do they expect me to do so I can go about life (including crowded intersections) normally without getting caught up in a police sweep?

8. They said one of the reasons they were after these particular people is because they did not dissociate themselves from the black bloc. The thing is, neither did I. Why not? Because what the black bloc did was so fucking dumb-ass that I figured my condemnation of their asshattery would be taken as a given! I've never dissociated myself from Hitler or Than Shwe or Paul Bernardo or Kanye West when he was interrupting Taylor Swift or those dickheads who sit with their legs spread on the subway either, for the same reason (although I'll take the opportunity to do so now). So whom do they want us to dissociate from? Which circumstances require an explicitly state dissociation and which are obvious? How, precisely, do we dissociate from someone to the satisfaction of the police? We need clear instructions on this!

9. Some people have said that the reason the police arrested everyone at Queen & Spadina is because they said not to go past a certain line, and a few people did. (According to the explanation I was given, the people in the video who were sitting on the ground with their backs to the police had crossed the invisible line, but I can't vouch for that personally.) I've also heard people complaining that legitimate protesters did nothing to stop the black bloc people (although we have video evidence that some people did). But how could I possibly stop a stranger from doing something stupid? I'm not big or strong enough to tackle a person, nor persuasive enough to convince them from crossing an invisible line. People don't generally listen to me. That was a method our teachers used in middle school. Sometimes they'd punish the whole class because we didn't stop the person from doing something wrong. Why didn't they understand that if I could get my peers to do what I wanted, I'd make them stop bullying me? Not being influential is...well, I might not go so far as to say it's punishment in and of itself, but it's certainly an inconvenience in every area of life as compared with being able to get people to do what you tell them. And now I have to worry about the police punishing me for being uninfluential in the general vicinity of an idiot.

10. If the police want to get ordinary citizens onside, they could do a world of good with humane detention conditions. One of my favourite guilty pleasures is the In Death series, which are police procedurals (although I'm finding them difficult to read now, bastards!) From these books, I've learned that sometimes the police need to investigate people to eliminate them, sometimes they need to ask questions of people who were present at the time or might have seen or heard something, sometimes they need to go through certain procedures for the record, etc. And because of this, before last weekend, if I found myself questioned by police officers, I would just assume they're doing their job. If I'd had to wait around several hours but I'd been indoors, not handcuffed because I'm no threat, reasonable access to washroom facilities and drinking water, I would totally be right up there with the people who are saying that they're just doing their jobs trying to protect us and we have to accept a certain amount of inconvenience. What makes me fear the police is the prospect of being kept outside in the elements unprotected (because if you're just running down to the corner store and the rain isn't forecast to start for several hours, you don't bring gear for three hours in the rain), not able to go to the washroom, detained for 36 hours, insufficient water, the only food available makes you thirstier, threatened with sexual harassment, overcrowded room, no room to lie down for 36 hours, vomit on the floor, etc. If they'd just gone through the motions of giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, they wouldn't be facing any complaints now.

11. Something needs to be done. We need to have assurances that we aren't going to be rounded up when we're just innocently walking down the street. (Or even if we're walking down the street doing something stupid and/or obnoxious, but perfectly legal and ultimately harmless.) We need assurances that we won't be forced to pee our pants or go without water or be sexually assaulted just because we happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We need assurances that we can trust our police. There are elements out there that are still threats to us and from which the police are supposed to protect us. You often hear that crimes aren't solved because witnesses don't come forward to the police. How can any of this work if we can't trust our police? This is detrimental to society as a whole!My now-octogenerian grandmother fled with her family from behind the iron curtain and sacrificed greatly her entire life so her descendents wouldn't have to go through this! If they can't provide us with assurances, they should at least provide my grandmother, and all those like her, with a refund!

12. I mentally wrote that last paragraph before I learned that police chief Bill Blair lied about the fence law. So even if they give us these assurances, how can we trust them? What are we supposed to do in a world where the police outright lie to us, publicly and on record, about what the laws are? How is our society going to function?

13. Do the police even want us to trust them? Or do they just want us to fear them? If it's the latter, couldn't they at least have a word with all the people who keep scolding me for not trusting the police?

Edited to add: Since 2007, I'd been wanting Eddie Izzard to come to Toronto, and asking him to do so at every opportune moment. Last month he did just that, and there was much rejoicing. But now I'm even more glad that he's already come to see us, because as it stands right this minute I could not in good conscience ask him to come here. He probably would because he's brave, and from a purely selfish fannish perspective I do want him to, but I cannot look someone I so like and admire in the metaphorical eye and say "You should come here. It's a good idea."

Monday, June 28, 2010

The things people assume about me

In terms of noteworthiness, this is more appropriate for Twitter than for Blogger, but there's no way I can get it down to 140 characters.

I get into the elevator in my apartment building. I'm carrying three shopping bags, my purse, a parcel, and two newspapers, so the man in the elevator (maybe 50ish?) asks me which floor. I tell him my floor, he presses the button, and then he starts talking.

He has this sort of patter/banter thing going on. I suspect he makes his living in sales. So he sees my newspapers and says "News! What's in the news? Riots and arrests! Terrible stuff! Oh well, it's not like we were in it!" Then we reached his floor and he got off.

He just automatically assumed I wasn't in it! What a weird assumption!

It's true that I wasn't actually in it, but I should have been. Rightfully, if I were doing my proper duty as a citizen, I should have been in the labour march. But I was afraid of getting arrested because my driver's licence is expired. So why did he just automatically think I wasn't in it? I freely concede that I may in fact look as chickenshit as I actually am, but it seems an odd thing to explicitly assume to someone's face on 10 seconds' acquaintance.

In retrospect, I should have burst into tears and come up with a story about having been an innocent passer-by caught in the police crush at Queen and Spadina. Although that's disrespectful to the people who actually were.

Another weird assumption came a while back. I was in line at the grocery story, facing (but not reading) a turny magazine rack. A worker clearing out the carts - a lady maybe in her 40s who I often see behind the cash register - turns the magazine rack around so a men's fitness magazine with a picture of a muscley shirtless male is facing me. "Now isn't that nicer to look at?" she says.

Why would she assume I like men?

As it happens, I do like men (although I'm not so very into the overly muscley variety in the picture in question), but why would you walk up to someone and explicitly assume their sexual orientation in a situation where there's absolutely no reason to do so?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

In loving memory of the dog next door

His ears were pointy, his tail was curly, and he was unwaveringly diligent in fulfilling what he saw as his sworn duties: to warn the neighbourhood of impending squirrels and to catch any frisbees that may pass his way.

He came into my parents' neighbours' household as a companion for an elderly lady, whom he brought much joy and ended up outliving. When I was in high school (which I guess shows how old he was!), when I came home from school he'd trot up to the fence to investigate and stick his snout underneath. I'd give him my hand and he'd give me a sniff and a lick. Then I'd go inside with a smile on my face.

I just received word that he was put down, following an illness that made eating and breathing difficult. He must have been at the very least 13 years old.

We didn't really have much of a relationship beyond our daily encounter at the fence. I don't even know if I ever even had a chance to pet him face to face. But he made me smile every single day, sometimes the only smile I'd get that day. For that alone, he will never be forgotten.

Things They Should Invent: text transcription of Web 2.0

A lot of the very important G20 record is on YouTube or Twitter. The problem with this is it's more difficult to read. This is an issue because it's most important to get this information to the people who don't want to invest the time in reading it.

For example, I think everyone should read Steve Paikin's tweets from last night, starting from "leaving the media ctr. heading for the scene of the rioting. want to see for myself." He walked around the city and live-tweeted what he saw in real time. But currently the only way to read these tweets is to go to his twitter feed, click the "More" button currently seven times (it's going to increase as he keeps tweeting), find the first tweet in the series, and read through by counterintuitively scrolling up.

There are also youtubes that allegedly show the use of agents provocateurs. I say "allegedly" because I haven't watched them yet. Why not? Because youtubes are inconvenient. You have to watch the whole thing, you don't know when the interesting and relevant stuff is going to happen, you don't know if you even care about the contents.

I could read a transcript of a youtube much faster than I could watch a youtube, and I could read a chronological transcript of a twitter feed much more easily than I could read an actual twitter feed.

They need to invent a way to do this, either automatically for everything that's posted, or by sending the material through some website that automatically transcribes it.

I find it inconvenient and burdensome to keep up on everything I should to be fully informed (I know, I know, #FirstWorldProblems), and I actually do feel morally obligated to intake all available information. It's even more important to get this information into the minds of people who refuse to believe that the situation could be more nuanced than they originally thought, and they're certainly not going to want to go to the effort of watching youtubes and reading twitter feeds that they don't care about!

Now taking suggestions for a new word

The protesters who were wrecking stuff were using black bloc tactics, complete with full black costumes. This does is a great favour semantically, because we can now call them "black bloc protesters", which is a clear and simple way to distinguish them from the majority of legitimate peaceful protesters.

What we need is a similar term for law enforcement who abuse their power. It needs to be clear, straightforward, and easily understood, so there are no barriers to using it every time you need to describe the concept. It will eliminate any ambiguity without making the speaker seem an apologetic for the police (which could hinder the speaker's perceived neutrality and/or credibility).

The word needs to be neutral, without casting any positive or negative connotations on the people it refers to. Black bloc is a specific protest technique, so people who engage in it can rightfully, neutrally, and unquestionably be called black bloc protesters. It's like how a person playing a vuvuzela can rightfully, neutrally, and unquestionably be called a vuvuzela player. Regardless of how you feel about the people being referred to, it is inherently non-judgemental.

(At this point, someone usually points out that the people in question deserve to be spoken of judgementally, but we can't do that properly unless we also have the option of referring to them neutrally, thereby making any aspersions case an informed and deliberate choice.)

Suggestions welcome. If any journalists or anyone else with broader reach than me would like to take this up, you're welcome to it. If your suggestion is clear, obvious, and justifiable enough that I can use it in translations, I will do so if the topic ever comes up.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Journalism wanted

I have a number of questions about recent G20 happenings. In more or less chronological order:

1. On June 16, it was announced that health cards wouldn't count as ID for the security zone. Why not? What does this achieve from a security perspective? What aspect of health cards makes them inadequate as ID? Why did they announce this too late for anyone to acquire ID that was considered acceptable in time for the summit? The nature of health cards hasn't changed. Why didn't they know they would be unacceptable earlier? What do they want people who don't have a driver's licence or a passport but do legitimately need to access the security zone to do? What are the intentions of the people who made this rule?

2. Why were the new laws not announced and widely publicized before the first person was arrested under them? What is the security/law enforcement benefit to doing this? Presumably laws are made because they want people to follow them, and to get people to follow them they have to tell people about them. If this is not the case, why not? What were their intentions?

3. I have heard a number of reports from actual journalists (including the Toronto Star's G20 blog and Steve Paikin's twitter feed) that police were banging their batons against their shields. What is their intention in doing this? I'm not in the crowd in question, but it seems like the sort of thing that could escalate.

4. Who exactly are these black bloc people? What are their goals? Why do they think their goals are best achieved through violent action? Why did they choose to take violent action in a way that would be detrimental to the safety and reputation of peaceful demonstrators? Are they opposed to what the peaceful demonstrators stand for? I would very much like to see an extensive interview with some black bloc people, and I think protecting the sources' anonymity if necessary would be appropriate. We have a right to know at the very least the reasoning, goals, and intentions of the people who are hurting our city's body, soul and reputation and setting legitimate activism back decades.

5. What was the ratio of black bloc people to legitimate demonstrators to police? How does this compare to demonstrator/police ratios at demonstrations? I've heard reports that the police weren't doing anything to stop the black bloc people from destroying property. Is this true? If so, were the ratios such that it would not have been possible to do so? Is there another law enforcement reason? Where else were the police deployed and why?

6. I've heard from a number of eyewitness sources via twitter that the police seemed to be attempting to rather aggressively drive protesters out of Queen's Park. But Queen's Park is the designated protest area. What's the story here? Did something change? Why wouldn't you want to keep protesters inside the protest area? What triggered the aggressiveness?

I have a couple more things that are really more ideas for long-term research rather than journalism, so I'll be making another blog post either tonight or tomorrow.

I'll close with a conspiracy theory. If you're just tuning in to this blog, I like to make conspiracy theories - it's a bit of a hobby. (Maybe I should give them their own blog category?) I tend not to actually believe the conspiracy theories I make, I just find it an entertaining intellectual exercise to assemble the elements of a situation in a way that produces a good conspiracy theory.

So here's my conspiracy theory for today's events: the black bloc people are ultimately operatives/tools of the powers that be, sent into today's protests for the express purpose of making the unprecedented security measures look justified, and perhaps also to distract from what the G20 actually is or is not doing.

I'm sure no one involved likes that conspiracy theory. I'm sure even those not involved want it to be false. Therefore, I hope everyone will be absolutely scrupulous in disclosing and reporting all the facts and all the truth in order to disprove me beyond any doubt, and the unanswered questions won't be left to slide just because the barricades have come down and the rainbow flags have gone up.

Currently wondering: are politicians open to specific solutions from citizens?

Sometimes when I write to my elected representatives, it's because I've come up with a solution to a problem. When the debate of the moment is "Free widgets for all!" vs. "Ban widgets!", sometimes I think of a new way to keep widgets affordable and accessible for everyone who needs them while also greatly reducing the widget-related injuries that have cause people to call for a ban in the first place.

Are politicians equipped to handle this? If my idea is in fact new and original, is there even a mechanism for them to take what's useful from my new idea and run with it and build a better widget? Or are they only equipped to check off X votes in the pro-widget box and Y votes in the non-widget box?

Friday, June 25, 2010

How security people can get ordinary citizens onside

If people who want to implement questionable-looking and inconvenient security measures want to get the citizenry onside, they need to give us success stories. Give us examples of tangible results produced by previous security actions - ideally security actions taken by the same parties that seemed equally unreasonable going in.

"We took these measures and nothing happened" isn't good enough. (And if you think it's good enough, I have a tiger-proof hat I'd like to sell you.) We need examples of specific and tangible threats that were actually prevented because of specific measures that were taken.

"But we can't disclose this information for security reasons." I do see where you're coming from on that. I myself have a job where I spend my day immersed in information I'm not permitted to disclose. But the fact is, there have been enough abuses of trust in recent memory that we can no longer trust you blindly. As Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "La confiance se gagne en gouttes, et se perd en litres." Trust is won in drops and lost in litres. Give us success stories and get us onside, or stay behind a wall of silence and continue going about your work as an object of thankless suspicion.

This post contains a Grooveshark widget

This post is just here so I can figure out how to make Grooveshark widgets work consistently. Carry on.

Are they TRYING to turn me into a conspiracy theorist?

So here's a problem:

Health cards not considered official ID

Anyone attempting to enter the security perimeter around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the intimidating fence that wraps along Wellington Street and down to Lakeshore Boulevard, will be required to show two pieces of identification.

But Wendy Drummond, of the Integrated Security Unit, said health cards will not be accepted. “They are not considered to be valid ID,” she said. Anyone attempting to enter the zone, even with their summit-issued pass, will have to provide a driver’s licence or passport.


Within those areas, police can demand identification from anyone coming within five metres of the fence perimeter and search them. If they refuse, they face arrest. Anyone convicted under the regulation could also face up to two months in jail or a $500 maximum fine.

It's very easy to see how not having a driver's licence or a passport could be readily interpreted by law enforcement as refusing to show identification. The thing is, you know who doesn't have driver's licences? People who can't or don't drive. This includes people who can't afford to drive (and driving is a luxury in, you know, downtown Toronto!) and people who have medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from driving, as well as people like me who just don't need to drive. You know who doesn't have a passport? People who haven't traveled abroad recently and have no plans to do so in the immediate future. This includes poor people who can't afford to travel, as well as people of all varieties who just, for whatever reason, haven't planned any trips abroad since their last passport expired. I'm sure you know all kinds of respectable people who had a period in their life during which they ended up not traveling abroad, for whatever reason.

At this point, you're probably thinking "So stop whining and get ID!" But the announcement that health cards wouldn't be accepted was on June 16. You can't get ID in 10 days. You could get a temporary driver's licence (if you don't have any medical conditions precluding it), but the photo ID wouldn't arrive in the mail until after the G20 is over.

My inner conspiracy theorist thinks they've just written themselves carte blanche to arrest any marginalized people in the area. My inner non-conspiracy-theorist is having trouble coming up with another reasonable explanation

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I wonder where G20 Director General Sanjeev Chowdhury is from?

From the last paragraph of this article:

"Don't forget that we are hosting the G20 in Toronto on a Saturday and Sunday," said Chowdhury. "By and large, the downtown core is empty. It is pretty much business heavy. That was one consideration when we chose the location."

He thinks downtown is empty on weekends! Has he ever been there, like at all ever? Does he not know that people live there? Why weren't any of the Toronto people involved in this able to disabuse him of this notion? What other decisions are being made by people whose knowledge of the basic context is completely bass-ackwards WRONG?

Things They Should Invent: extend G20 media's hotel stays for a week for free

This, what's going on in downtown Toronto right now, is not my city. My city is alive. It has patios and jaywalking and musical theatre and street furniture and universities and sports and amateur photography and people in business suits loitering in the sunny spots between the towers on their lunch hour and questionable individuals going about their questionable business unmolested.

Next week is Pride. That is my city. There's music and food and culture and dancing in the streets. The barricades will come down, uniformed police officers will trade their riot gear for rainbow beads, and all will be right with the world.

Apparently the G20 is supposed to showcase us to the world, but the police state is not what we want to showcase. Pride is what we do want to showcase. It's our best selves, especially when contrasted with this weekend's lockdown.

Therefore, the people in charge of Toronto tourism should offer to comp the hotel room for any members of the media who choose to extend their stay through Pride week. Then they can see what we're actually proud to showcase to the world.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why do they consider business attire risky?

From the contents of a downtown condo's G20 Resident Information Guide:

Here are suggestions of things we would normally do, but won't be allowed to do during the summit:

* Pick up parcels.
* Use any of the building's stairwells (unless in the event of emergency, of course).
* Order food for delivery.
* Have guests (if you expect a guest, they must be pre-registered by June 24).
* Hang out in the lobby (read: no loitering).
* Wear anything other than T-shirts outside the building (because wearing business attire may put us in a "susceptible" position).
* Engage in conversations with the protesters.
* Leave the building in our cars (I need more exercise anyway).
* Use the barbecue, patio or recreation areas (you know, because cooking some meat or running on the treadmill may or may not attract hungry, exercise-seeking protesters).

Why would wearing business attire put you in a susceptible position? Wouldn't that make it obvious to all the police and army and paramilitary that you're just an ordinary person going about your business?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wanted: shave minimizing lotion

I used to use a product called Jergen's Naturally Smooth on my legs, to slow down the regrowth of my (shaved) leg hair. It was discontinued, so I started using another similar product called Aveeno Positively Smooth. Now the Aveeno has been discontinued and I can't find another similar product.

Can anyone recommend anything?

I already know about Kalo, but I'm looking for something more at a drugstore price point, that I can afford to slather liberally on my legs nearly every day for most of the summer. It doesn't need a miracle, it just needs to keep me from growing a five o'clock shadow on my ankles. Trust me, it's for the greater good of society if I don't have a five o'clock shadow on my ankles.

I'm not looking just for moisturizers that you like using on your legs, I'm looking specifically for something that will mitigate stubble regrowth.

I, and everyone who has to see me on the commute home in hot weather, would appreciate any recommendations anyone might have.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The major flaw in the immigration program for Afghan interpreters

This is an old story, but I haven't heard this major flaw addressed yet so I'm putting it out there.

There's a program to fast-track immigration applications for Afghan interpreters serving the Canadian Forces. I am very glad that such a program exists. These guys have, by far, the greatest risk, the worst working conditions, and the lowest pay of all the many language professionals serving Canada or Canadians. They are serving our country; the least we can do is give them the protection of our country.

However, there is a major flaw in this program:

Neither Kenney nor officials in his department could say exactly when the successful immigrants, who are allowed to bring along two family members each, would arrive in Canada.

They are allowed to bring two family members each. But surely it isn't uncommon to have more than three people (i.e. the interpreter and the designated two family members) in a household? Surely it isn't uncommon to have more than two minor children? Think about your family. Think about your family of origin when you and all your siblings were minors. How well would it have fared if the primary breadwinner left and took only two people along, leaving the rest behind?

How many interpreters are facing a Sophie's Choice of which two family members to take to safety in Canada? How many interpreters are declining to take part in this program simply because they don't want to have to leave some of their dependents behind, perhaps to face retribution for the interpreters' actions?

I was relieved when I heard that my country was going to help protect my Afghan brethren, but now I'm ashamed that we have such a short-sighted, bureaucratic, punitive rule that only allows interpreters with average-sized families to access our protection by sacrificing some of their family members.

An appropriate rule would be that they can bring their household, or they can bring their spouse and children, or even to say that the program is just for the interpreters themselves and they can have their family follow them through normal family reunification measures later. (Not saying that leaving the whole family behind is better, just that it's a more appropriate scope for a rule.) But a limit of two family members is completely arbitrary, in a casually cruel sort of way.

I want my country to be better than that.

Why do religious people want other people to say grace?

Ken Gallinger's ethics column in this Saturday's Star (which, weirdly, hasn't been posted online) has a letter from someone whose friend has recently become religious and now wants to say grace before every meal. But rather than saying grace herself, she says to the assembled group "Who's going to say the blessing?", trying to bully someone else into doing it.

I've heard of this happening quite a number of times in different contexts. Religious people put their non-religious guest on the spot by trying to get them to say grace. Even my own loss of faith was triggered by the fact that my parents suddenly wanted me to say grace. It wasn't that they wanted grace to be said, it's that they wanted me to do it, despite the fact that I didn't feel good about the idea. Desperate to be able to explain why I felt so strongly about not doing it (with adult vocabulary, I can articulate that the display of false piety made me feel hypocritical and rather dirty, and I was convinced that we would go to hell for trying to trick God by lying to Him, but as a kid I couldn't articulate this) I started thinking critically, long and hard, until I ultimately came to the realization that I'm an atheist.

So why do they want people who aren't interested in saying grace to say grace? If thanking the deity for the meal is so important, why aren't they eager to do it themselves? Why do they want to make their guests uncomfortable and have their deity get lied to rather than simply expressing their own genuine gratitude with quiet dignity in accordance with their faith?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Improving the deal-breaker personal ads

A while back, I came up with the idea of deal-breaker personal ads. You start out by disclosing your deal-breakers and your own characteristics that you think might be deal-breakers for prospective partners. Then after you've eliminated all the deal-breakers, you can look at each other's positive characteristics.

The problem with that idea is the human tendency to define things by their first impression. It might lead people to have pre-conceived (and negative) notions of prospective partners because they've been introduced to them as a set of annoyances.

Solution: you still vet the deal-breakers before you go on to the positive characteristics, but the deal-breakers aren't matched up with particular individuals. You get either a long list of individual deal-breakers and you don't know how many or which ones go with which person, or you get a list of people's sets of deal-breakers so you know which ones belong to the same person but you don't know which person they belong to. (I can make arguments for both approaches.) Then you accept or reject from that list.

Then, after you go through your deal-breaker list, you get a list of the people whose deal-breakers you've accepted (as long as they've also accepted your deal-breakers) with their traditional positive profiles. From the positive profile, you can click through to see which deal-breakers belong to them. So you still get a list of matches already vetted for deal-breakers, but you don't get a first impression of anyone as a collection of negatives.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Awesome customer service via Twitter!

1. In the library, I see a sign showing their renovation plans. On the sign is a post-it saying "Do not photograph." That's weird! I have no interest in photographing the sign, but it's odd that I wouldn't be allowed to photograph something prominently displayed in public space. So I ask the guy checking out my books why, but he didn't know. We had a bit of fun theorizing and laughed at the absurdity of the whole situation, and I left plotting a nefarious scheme to make a big show of photographing the thing just so someone would stop me.

Catching up on my tweets that day, I decided to tweet @TorontoPublicLibrary and ask them about the sign. It looked more like a promotional account than a question-answering account, but it's worth a try. After all, that's what Twitter is for! So I was pleasantly surprised to see that one Toronto Library person responded promptly and copied the tweet to another person who was able to answer my question!

It was a silly and inconsequential question, but they nevertheless took the time to answer it. Which, in a weird sort of way, is totally fulfilling the library's mandate.

2. I read an article that suggested that TFSAs don't work precisely how I thought they worked, and there might be financial penalties involved. I'm not super good at money stuff, but from where I'm sitting it looked like that sort of thing could be avoided with failsafes in the computer system. You know how if you enter the wrong number of digits in a "phone number" field on an electronic form, it simply won't let you proceed? They should be able to do the same thing with if you put too much money in your TFSA.

My TFSAs are with ING Direct, so I went to ING's website to see if they had a suggestion box. I couldn't find anything that quite looked appropriate, but I noticed they had a Twitter account. I clicked on that and it really looked more promotional than anything else, but I noticed they retweeted an account called @CEO-INGDIRECT. Meh, what the hell, that's what Twitter's for! So I tweeted him, and got an answer back within an hour - on a Saturday!

I chose ING in the first place because they seemed easy and straightforward. I could figure out how to do what I have to do, and didn't feel like there was a secret extra layer of stuff I don't understand lurking underneath. So I'm very gratified not only that they already have a mechanism to protect me from messing up my TFSA, but also that the CEO will take a moment out of his Saturday to reassure me that safe.


A biopsy is when they find a lump that isn't supposed to be there, so they take a tiny bit of the lump out to see what it's made of (especially to see if it's cancer). And the if it's cancer, they go in again and take the whole thing out and maybe blast you with radiation too.

So why not take the whole lump out the first time they go in to do a biopsy? It's not supposed to be there even if it isn't cancer. If it is cancer that just needs a lumpectomy, hey, guess what, you've cured it! All done, off you go, have a nice day! And if it's cancer that requires further treatment, you're going to need to go in for further treatment anyway.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A mission for everyone who has, or knows, a 905 phone number

1. Think of a 905 phone number, any 905 phone number with which you're familiar. It's better if it's an older phone number that was in use before 1993, but if you don't know any older ones any 905 number will do.

2. Remove the 905 area code and replace it with 416. Then call the number and see if it rings.

3. Post in the comments what happens. Don't post the actual number! Just is the number from before or after 1993, and does it ring.

Why are we doing this? Because prior to 1993, 416 and 905 all fell under the 416 area code. They split the area code in 1993, assigning 416 to Toronto proper and 905 to the suburbs and outlying areas. The ostensible reason for this was that we were running out of 416 numbers.

But I just called the phone number I grew up with (but with 416 instead of 905), and it said it hadn't been assigned. So I'm wondering whether that's a fluke.

So let's do an experiment! If you have or know of a 905 number that used to be a 416 number before the area code split, give the 416 number a call, and post the results in the comments. Don't post the phone number! Just is it from before 1993, and did it ring?

More information please

1. Are the G20 costs high relative to costs of similar things? A billion dollars sounds like a fuck-ton of money. Media have pointed out how many hungry people it would feed or how much subway it would buy, but how much security can it buy in other situations? Galloping Beaver points out that it can buy a year of Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan. See, that's informative! And that means we are owed an explanation of why protecting Toronto costs 100 times as much per day.

I saw an article presenting as outrageous the fact that $100,000 was spent on a gazebo. Is that a lot for a gazebo? I don't actually know. I have no frame of reference. While building a fake lake within sight of the real lake is inherently ridiculous, is $2 million $57,000 a lot of money for the thing that they are building? I have no clue. They could be getting gouged, or it could be outstandingly good value on par with the 4 drinking glasses I just got for $2.50 at Kitchen Stuff Plus. I have no frame of reference.

I really want media coverage to contextualize this systematically. It's very easy to see a large number, clutch your pearls, and get outraged. I can do that myself without media help. What I do need journalism for is to help me contextualize it. And if there is room for outrage, then we'll go in well-informed, so politicos can't pat us on the head and tell us that it's complicated and we don't understand.

2. Are people really over-using medical care? A recurring idea is that there should be an out-of-pocket fee to for medical appointments to stop people from making frivolous medical appointments. But do people really make frivolous medical appointments? If anything, I'd say our culture encourages more medical appointments than people are inclined to make for themselves. Advice columns are always sending people to the doctor at the slightest provocation. The fashion magazines I read as a kid always said that your doctor can help with your zit emergencies. My university even required a doctor's note if you wanted to bring your own bed to res rather than using the one provided. This one guy who was seven feet tall had to get a note from a doctor asserting that the normal bed is too small for him, when he could have proven it in 10 seconds by lying down on the bed! I see lots of people being told they should go to the doctor, but I don't ever see real people actually going to the doctor frivolously.

It is true that the patient might go to the doctor out of ignorance, but that isn't something that will be helped by charging people money. Going to the doctor out of ignorance needs to be addressed by educating patients, by giving them the tools to triage themselves. This is accomplished with Telehealth and with decision trees like these. If the patient genuinely doesn't know that this isn't something they need to see a doctor for, they still do need some kind of health care to teach them how to tell whether or not they need to see the doctor.

(At the very least, if the charge is really intended to be a disincentive to frivolous doctor's appointments, it should be waived if you were referred by Telehealth or a medical professional, or for doctor-recommended preventive care. And organizations that require a doctor's note should be responsible for paying the charge. Although even that's imperfect - for example, I know when I have strep throat - I got it every year in childhood and get it frequently enough in adulthood to recognize it. If I had to pay a fee or get referred by Telehealth, I'd just be cluttering up Telehealth.)

3. What happens to inmates' money? Recently in the news was a move to prohibit people who are in jail from receiving OAS and other government benefits to which they'd normally be entitled in their capacity as citizens. This makes me wonder: what normally happens to inmates' money? Obviously they can't spend it freely while in prison, because that would rather defeat the purpose of prison. But what does happen to their money? Can it still be used to maintain ongoing expenses (i.e. can they keep paying your rent with whatever savings they might have)? Can their spouse/dependents access it?

My gut reaction is to oppose taking pensions and other benefits away from prisoners, because I feel like that opens the door to taking them away from other people that the government deems unworthy for whatever reason. (Not sure how legally valid that is, it's just my gut reaction.)

But it also occurs to me that it might ultimately lead to recidivism. This whole thing started with serial Clifford Olsen, who isn't getting out of jail, but most inmates ultimately are going to be released at some point. It seems to me that if they have been rehabilitated (and if they haven't been rehabilitated that's a correctional system problem, not a social safety net problem), having a bit of a nest egg will make it easier for them to peacefully reintegrate into society, whereas if they are desperate for money they'd be more likely to return to crime.

It also occurs to me that, if inmates' families are able to access the inmates' assets, then disqualifying inmates for pensions is simply punishing innocents. It isn't the families' - especially not the dependents' - fault the criminal is a criminal. It's possible the criminal has still contributed to the household, either by earning income or even just by being someone who can kill spiders and help flip the mattress, and the household suffers for his absence. It's also possible that criminals who are released from prison after the age of 65 may never be able to reintegrate into the job market, and their spouse and/or children will end up support them for the rest of their lives. So why should this be made even more burdensome?

Clifford Olsen is an extreme case. I wish we had more information on how this affects more common cases.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cunning abuse of flags

Apparently it's illegal to desecrate a flag in the US.

What a strange, petty, fussy thing to be illegal in a country that makes such a big-ass deal of not even making hate speech illegal! Encouraging genocide is fine, but damaging a piece of fabric with symbolic value is illegal? Weird!

I do wonder how they manage to fit that into their broader legal framework. Desecrating a flag seems like the perfectly logical symbolic manifestation of legitimate protest against the reigning government, which is something that, if not explicitly legally enshrined, is certainly celebrated in the US. Desecrating a flag is elegant and effective as an act of symbolism while being harmless to all persons and properties except the flag itself. You'd think they'd tacitly encourage it so as to avoid more damaging forms of protest.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wherein a surprise cheque in the mail makes me depressed

In my mail today was a brown envelope from the Government of Ontario. Ontario? WTF? So I open it, and it's my first HST transitional rebate cheque, for $100.

That just pisses me off.

It isn't the tax that pisses me off. It isn't the fact of the rebate that pisses me off. It's the fact that they never corrected the major inequity in the rebate: Single individuals get $300, but couples without dependent children get $1000.

That is, quite simply, wrong. Living as a couple is not more expensive than living as two single individuals. The rebate for a couple with no dependents should not under any circumstances exceed the rebate for two single individuals.

Of course, I pointed this out right away, as soon as the March 2009 budget came out. I blogged it and emailed it to my MPP and the Minister of Finance and Dalton McGuinty. I talked to people about it, and all the married and cohabiting couples in my life agreed with me that it's unfair, so I encouraged them to write to their MPPs. Basically I spotted a flaw in the plan and did everything I'm supposed to under those circumstances. But they didn't correct it.

I am incredibly frustrated because lately it seems like this is happening with everything.

- Transit City has been defunded, and none of the candidates are proposing solutions that will solve the part of the problem that affects me personally.
- Abortion is being excluded from international development maternal health programs.
- No one is working to correct the flaw in the ORTA that allows landlords to increase rent as much as they want if the building happens to have been built after 1998.
- The new copyright bill makes it illegal to break digital locks.
- The City of Toronto is encouraging buildings to close their garbage chutes rather than encouraging them to use them for recycling or organics.
- They're requiring stores to charge people 5 cents for plastic bags and eventually banning the use of biodegradable bags rather than simply requiring stores to use biodegradable bags in the first place.
- They introduced age-specific (rather than experience-specific) restrictions for young drivers.
- They seem to be seriously considering forcing a rape victim to testify in court with more of her body exposed than she is comfortable with.

And there are at least two other things too. I know I had at least 10 things, but I'm so upset I can't think of them.

All of these are things that I wrote my elected officials about. I wrote sensible, reasonable, coherent letters (much more sensible, reasonable and coherent than this blog post) identifying the crux of the problem and proposing specific solutions. In at least half the cases (garbage chutes, plastic bags, rent increases, driving restrictions, HST rebate) my solutions were objectively better for all involved. (They might in fact be better for all of these issues, but I can't objectively assess my solutions in all of them.) I did exactly what I was supposed to and was helpful and productive, but none of this stuff got fixed.

But when they came up with the excellent of idea of making O Canada inclusive, people wrote in and complained so they chickened out. And when they came up with the excellent idea of updating sex ed for the 21st century, people wrote in and complained and they stopped. But they never stop when I write in and complain.

I am drained and frustrated and exhausted. I'm being a good and diligent citizen, and no one is listening. But they are listening to the people who want to hurt me.

Our standard of living has been stagnating or declining since 1980. I was born in 1980. Things have been getting worse my whole life!

My parents were about the same age I am now when they had me. They had been married for seven years, so the choice to have a child was deliberate and mindful. And this choice must have been informed by the context in which they grew up: be good, and life will get better. My parents were good. They did well in school and went to university and got good sensible jobs, and were therefore able to achieve a much higher quality of life than the one that they grew up with. So they tried hard to make us smart, insofar as parenting can influence that sort of thing, so that we could achieve the same.

I was also good. I did well in school, got a good sensible job, never hurt anyone, and turned out vaguely smart as well. And I'm being a good girl politically too, always writing my elected representatives with good, logical, sensible, coherent letters that propose helpful solutions whenever I have something useful to contribute. But it isn't working! And, in a number of cases, they're actually hindering my quality of life!

This all feels so depressing and hopeless.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Congratulations et félicitations to L-girl and Redsock, who are being sworn in as Canadian citizens today!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Things They Should Invent: no insurance limit on smoking cessation aids

A friend of mine is quitting smoking. (YAY!) When I asked if his insurance covered whatever method he chose to use, he said that they do, but only up to a certain dollar amount.

Isn't that the stupidest thing ever to have a dollar limit on???

People should get all the smoking cessation aids they need to quit smoking! That might even be worse than the dollar limit on psychotherapy.

And people wonder why I have a conspiracy theory (once blogged, can't find it now) that employer-provided health plans are intended to keep you alive long enough to work but kill you shortly after retirement!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Why are they holding the G20 here if they don't want the trappings of a city?

They're fencing off part of downtown. People will need to go through security screening to get to their homes and jobs. They're closing the CN Tower. They're canceling baseball games. They're canceling performances of musicals. They're closing down U of T. They're closing the art gallery. (And I'd very much like to know if all these workers are losing their wages for this time.) VIA trains won't be running downtown. They're removing garbage cans and bus shelters and street furniture from downtown.

It sounds like they don't really want a whole bunch of people and things all crowded into one small area, all hurrying about in different directions and legitimately engaged in a wide range of eccentric activities.

In other words, they don't want a city.

So WTF are they holding it here? They clearly don't want us to be us! Why don't they hold it somewhere more isolated or at the very least lower density?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Conspiracy theory of the moment

Bicycles are considered equal to cars (or any other motor vehicle). They should be on the road, not the sidewalk. They are entitled to take up an entire lane on the street.

On the surface, that sounds good and positive and validating towards cyclists. But what if it's really a conspiracy to keep cycling from being a viable and commonly-used mode of transportation?

Biking in the road is difficult and scary for the cyclist, and is also kind of scary for the driver. If you hit another car, you hurt the car. If you hit a cyclist, you probably kill a whole human being. There's huge outcry about how cyclists should be on the road so they don't interfere with pedestrians, but I personally feel safer walking among cyclists than driving among cyclists, and I feel better able to dodge pedestrians while biking than to dodge cyclists while driving. (I freely concede this might be because I'm a bad driver, and good drivers might feel differently.)

People who aren't hardcore and brave simply aren't going to bike as a primary mode of transportation if it means they have to share a busy street with cars. I'd say the majority of people simply don't want that kind of risk with their morning commute.

Has anyone ever looked into the origin of the law that puts cyclists on the road? Why is it there in the first place? Who thought it was a good idea, and why?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Things They Should Invent: standardized deprovocation procedure

With the arrival of the G20 in Toronto, all the usual concerns are coming up about authority figures planting agents provocateurs in with the protesters.

So what we need is standardized, universally-agreed-upon way of de-escalation any provocation. Anyone who suspects they are witnessing provocation should engage in the standard deprovocation procedures, and anyone who witnesses the standard deprovocation should also engage in the deprovocation procedure. This will prevent the provocateur from having influence, and might also draw attention to any provocateurs.

The standardized deprovocation should involve being calm and quiet, and should involve some easily visible sign that you are currently engaging in deprovocation. There also needs to be a generally agreed-upon social standard that having one's behaviour deprovoked is not a personal diss, for people who aren't agents provocateurs but just get over-excited by the energy of the crowd.

So how would a deprovocation work? Here's an idea as a starting point: when you witness something you believe might be provocation, you stop, turn away from the provocateur with your arms crossed like a Klingon discommendation ritual, and stay still and silent for 10 seconds. Then you proceed just like you were before, as though nothing had happened. If you witness someone else deprovoking, you also stop, turn in the same direction as the deprovocateur with your arms crossed like a Klingon discommendation ritual, and stay still and silent for 10 seconds. Once the deprovocation is over, forget about it. Don't scold or start a witch hunt for the original provocateur.

This particular method does have its flaws and I'm sure people could think of a better way, but you see what it achieves. The provocation cannot escalate or be interpreted as escalation if everyone is still and silent. Turning away from the provocateur eliminates their audience, so they cannot provoke. It is a visible gesture to witnesses and cameras that you, personally, are actively trying to de-escalate.

If a method can be agreed upon and used by a critical mass of people, it should make it impossible for anyone to successfully provoke and allow benign crowds to peaceably self-police.

What if we don't care enough about the environment because our country is so big?

So I've been playing with, which projects the oil spill on a map so you can see how big it is in comparison to an area you're familiar with. So I projected it on Toronto, and yeah, they're right, it's really big.

Then I projected it on London.

Holy fucking shit.

It is wider than ENGLAND! It's about the same size as Belgium and Netherlands combined! It could swallow Wales whole without leaving a trace, and they have their own language!

When projected on a map of Southern Ontario it does look big, It would swallow the world as I know it and then some, but that's just a tiny little corner of our country. Anything that would be lost if we disappeared is reproduced similarly enough in other parts of Canada and/or the US. But in Europe the same amount of land contains whole cultures with histories that go on for centuries (millenia?) beyond anything of which we can conceive.

What if this is making us too blasé about the environment? What if we're subconsciously less motivated to protect our land and water because we have so much of it? I never even realized just how much water we have in the Great Lakes (proportionately speaking) until I saw that the oil spill is a bit smaller than any one lake, but it's as wide as all of ENGLAND!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Being a polyglot makes me sheltered

A while back, I found a clip on YouTube of a Japanese a capella group singing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Watching this, I was struck by how the only thing I understand are the lyrics to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. I don't understand the spoken introduction, I don't understand the signs, I don't understand the various other spoken words. If put in that environment, I couldn't buy a coffee or a train ticket or even ask for help, unless someone there happens to speak my language.

That concept is terrifying! Like paralyzingly, can't-breathe terrifying! I have never in my life been in an environment where I don't speak the language! Sure, I've been in the presence of conversations in a language that I don't understand, but I've always been able to read the signs and address any random passers-by in the default local language. The idea of not being able to makes me feel helpless, like when I was 2 and fell asleep in the car seat and my mother decided to take the groceries into the house first and then come back for me and I thought she'd forgotten all about me.

Then I realized: I have never been in an environment where I don't speak the language! Isn't that weird? People travel to places where they don't speak the language all the time, but I'm so used to knowing languages that I find the prospect terrifying.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Power has been restored at Yonge & Eg

The hydro electrical power outage at Yonge & Eglinton this morning (i.e. June 1) was apparently fixed around 11:30. Why yes, I am front-loading this post with keywords. I couldn't find anything when I was googling from work to figure out if I should go home, so I'm making a blog post in the hope that it might help someone else.