Saturday, July 31, 2010

Currently wondering: does uterine birth control affect HIV transmission?

I vaguely remember reading, either in a text I was translating several years ago or in my research for this text, that part of the reason why there's a high risk of HIV transmission in unprotected vaginal intercourse is that the purpose of the uterus is to be a hospitable environment for any cells that enter it to hang out for a while and grow and multiply.

I can't find this text since it's several years old and I've forgotten who the client was, but, assuming my understanding is correct, I wonder if certain forms of birth control would reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

The IUD and certain types of oral contraceptives work by making the uterus less hospitable. It's more difficult for sperm and egg to meet and mate and develop and embryo and implant and start cellular division. I wonder if this also makes it less hospitable to HIV cells. Even a diaphragm would at least keep the HIV cells from making it into the uterus, which obviously isn't sufficient protection but might make the risk lower.

A quick google shows that birth control does not increase one's risk of HIV transmission (either male to female or female to male - no mention of female to female) and that it is safe for people with HIV to use birth control, but there's no mention of whether birth control reduces the risk. Does this mean it doesn't, or does this mean they haven't done the research?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Writing to my 13-year-old self

There's a "write a letter to your 13-year-old self" trend going around the blogosphere. I recently wrote a letter to my 18-year-old self. One of the things I said was:

Read Harry Potter. Read the complete works of Miss Manners. Read the In Death series. Read Introvert Advantage. Read Malcolm Gladwell. Watch Eddie Izzard's comedy and every interview he's ever done. These will all not only entertain you, but help you navigate the world better.

But almost none of these things existed when I was 13! Harry Potter was still five years away. Miss Manners existed. In Death was two years away. The neuroscience underlying Introvert Advantage hadn't even been discovered yet. Malcolm Gladwell wasn't writing his Malcolm Gladwellish stuff yet. Eddie had only just done Live at the Ambassadors, and on top of all that the Web was only just in its infancy. The things my 13-year-old self needed to self-actualize had not yet been created!

Even if they had existed, I wouldn't necessarily have been able to access them. Not just because of the logistical difficulties of accessing information in 1993, but because of the logistical difficulties of being 13! Miss Manners, Introvert Advantage, and Malcolm Gladwell I could easily check out of the library (although Miss Manners would have gotten comments from any family members and bullying from any peers who saw me reading it.) In Death I might not have been allowed because of the sex, and Harry Potter I might not have been allowed because it's too easy (my parents never censored my reading for mature content, although my 13-year-old self never tried to read anything as hot as In Death, but I'd at the very least get a talking-to if I was reading anything my father considered too easy). But Eddie? Transvestite comedian who says fuck a lot? Could never have gotten away with it. Eddie inspires me, makes me brave (insofar as I am brave), and is single-handedly responsible for at least 50% of the people skills I've developed since I first encountered his work, but my parents would have taken the video away and tried to have A Talk with me and supervised me annoyingly closely if I had ever brought that home to watch.

No wonder I can't think of anything useful to tell my 13-year-old self!


Dear 13-year-old self:

One day, you will get on a subway in Toronto (I know, it sounds big and scary, but you're just like those grownup women you envied on the Tube in London!) and see Big Bully sitting in the train. Fortunately, you'll look fantastic! Your hair isn't oily (Google up hairdressers specializing in long hair once you move to Toronto. Don't worry, the verb "google" will be meaningful by then.), your skin looks smooth (They're soon going to invent something called Touche Eclat. Get some as soon as you can afford it.), your outfit is flattering and grown up, you're wearing funky shoes by your favourite designer (You have a favourite shoe designer, by the way, which you chose entirely out of personal taste and completely without the influence of fashion magazines.) and just wait until I tell you what your bra size is! You also happen to be engaged in witty conversation with a very attractive man. In French. (French will give you your career. Learn your prepositions even when they're stupid!) Sure, he's gay (which isn't a problem, BTW. You'd do best to just not express any opinion on sexual orientation before the 21st century.) and you're talking about work, but Big Bully doesn't know that! It's not like she speaks French! You won't even cast a casual glance in Big Bully's direction, instead staying engrossed in your conversation with the attractive man. Then you'll get off at your stop (one of the better neighbourhoods in Toronto - BTW, you earn more dollars than you thought you ever would, although inflation makes that less impressive than it sounds) and go home to your beautiful apartment, never to see Big Bully again.

Don't worry, you'll be in love for real to. You'll be kissed and, crazy as it sounds, even have sex in ways that are far better than you've imagined yet. (Look up the word "cunnilingus" in the glossary of that book Mom gave you about your changing body.) You'll have friends too, real friends to whom you can admit you like Star Trek! But that one moment on the subway will be the only time you ever see any of your bullies. They are irrelevant to your life now. And all they know about you is that one glimpse Big Bully got of you on the train - a witty conversation in French with an attractive man, while looking fantastic.

I can't tell you anything to make it better right now, but I can tell you it will get better. The adult world isn't like what you're going through at all, and you can navigate it just fine without being able to navigate the 13-year-old world. Never mind what any of the grownups around you say: the adult world is WAY easier.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kids Today and their baggy pants

Train of thought arose from this story, where a judge threw out a summons that a police officer issued to a guy wearing saggy pants.

I first encountered that look in some of my classmates when I was in grade 7, which would have been 1992. My middle school wasn't exactly on the cutting edge of fashion, so I'd assume the style originated at least in 1990, if not earlier. That's 20 years ago! If, as is the case with most trends, some of the early adopter were in their early 20s, then there would now be early adopters of this trend who are now in their 40s, and quite likely still wearing their pants low because it never entirely went out of style.

The style is 20 years old and the early adopters are in their 40s. So why are people still clutching their pearls about it?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why should I be allowed to drive with alcohol in my blood?

They're about to introduce new drinking and driving restrictions for people aged 21 and under, where they must have a blood alcohol level of zero regardless of their licence category or driving experience.

I blogged before about how it's inappropriate to have these restrictions be age-based instead of experience-based, especially since the people in question are legally adults.

But today it just occurred to me to think about it from the opposite perspective:

If I, being 29 years old with no 21st-century driving experience, quickly cram in a few driving lessons with one of those driving schools that takes you up to a tiny rural town to do the G2 and manage to pass that test since there's no traffic around to freak me out, I can drive with a small amount of alcohol in my blood. (I think it's 0.05, but I'm not certain because I'm not in the market for any drinking and driving.)

But why should I be allowed to do that? What purpose does it serve? Why, when they were updating the legislation, didn't they make it illegal for me to drive with alcohol in my blood too? How is society better off if I'm allowed to drive with a small amount of alcohol in my blood than if I'm allowed to drive with no alcohol in my blood?

The ostensible reason for this age restriction:

Statistics show people aged 19 to 21 are nearly 1.5 times more likely than older drivers to be involved in fatal crashes and injuries as a result of drinking and driving.

So because I'm statistically less likely to be harmed as a result of the undesirable behaviour, I'm allowed to engage in the undesirable behaviour? Based on that logic, I should be allowed to have guns and drugs.

(Also, people aged 19 to 21 are more likely than older drivers to be involved? So they're counting drivers and passengers aged 19 to 21, but only drivers who are older than that? Really? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that statistically the set of drivers and passengers overall is 1.5 times as large as the set of drivers only.)

When all this started, Dalton McGuinty said:

"Perhaps the most precious thing we have in society is our children, and that includes our older children,"

"We owe it to our kids to take the kinds of measures that ensure that they will grow up safe and sound and secure, and if that means a modest restriction on their freedoms until they reach the age of 22, then as a dad, I'm more than prepared to do that."

Oh, I see. You're "more than prepared" to place "a modest restriction on their freedom", but don't even consider in passing extending this to a modest restriction on your own freedom, not even to add credibility to and eliminate the greatest flaws in your legislation.

I said it two years ago and I'll say it again: I'm glad he's not my father.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Things Should Invent: tell us the shipping method when we pay for our cart

I blogged before about how is now using UPS for its shipping, apparently in addition to Canada Post. I find this horrendously inconvenient, but when I emailed them to complain they told me that there's no way for me to set personal shipping method preferences.

If they can't do that (or, you know, just ship by Canada Post like normal people), they should allow us to see who the shipper will be when we make our cart. You can already tweak your cart to try to leverage discounts, see how different shipping options will affect the ETA, see how shipping items separately or changing shipping speed will affect the price, etc. Why not add an option to tell you which shipper will be used if you order now?

Surely the computer system knows this. (If it were down to human intervention, then we could obviously set a single shipper preference.) If they tell us when we're making our carts, then we can make informed decisions, and maybe they'll get more people paying to upgrade their shipping so they can get the kind of shipping they want.


1. Why are people saying "affirmative action" all the sudden?

The phrase "affirmative action" has been in headlines recently with reference to a federal government program. I find this completely bizarre, because federal doesn't call it affirmative action. Federal calls it Employment Equity. My understanding is that the term "affirmative action" is USian.

There are 11,600 google hits for the phrase "affirmative action" on federal government websites. The first of these is about the Employment Equity program, and nearly all of the rest of the first page refer to programs from other jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, there are nearly ten times as many google hits for "employment equity" on federal government sites.

However, as of this posting, there are 88 Canadian news articles for "affirmative action" and only 37 for "employment equity".

How on earth did that happen?

2. What's up with spinny legislation names?

The names of a couple of new pieces of legislation have caught my attention recently. These pieces of legislation are called the Truth in Sentencing Act and the Strengthening the Value of Canadian Citizenship Act. The reason they caught my attention is because the names are so spinny, in that they sound like they've been named by the PR department.

I don't think federal legislation names are usually that spinny. Skimming the alphabetical list of all the federal laws, it doesn't look like most of them are. The vast majority of the names seem completely neutral to me, and even those that aren't 100% neutral aren't nearly as spinny as these two new pieces of legislation.

Is this new, or have I just not noticed it before? Am I missing equally spinny legislation names? (If so, post them in the comments!) The Clarity Act and the Accountability Act come to mind, but that depends on the exact content (I'm not particularly fluent in any legislation.)

If it is new, do they not think it's detrimental to the credibility of the legislation and the government? Because I don't know about you, but it immediately puts my antennae up.

How oppressors work

Some people want to ban burqas/niqabs because they think the wearers are being oppressed into wearing them, and they think banning the garments will put an end to this oppression.

What I'm wondering: if you're enough of an oppressor to bring your family to a new country but then forbid them from wearing that country's conventional standard of dress if they choose to do so, why would a ban make you shrug your shoulders and say "Oh, okay, they can expose their faces in public then" rather than just forbidding your family members from leaving the house?

It would be interesting to take a poll of parents, and ask them "If an activity your child was involved in changed its uniform to something that you consider to be far too revealing for your child to wear in public, would you allow your child to continue the activity?"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Help me not be one of those assholes

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who cannot see the point of view of a mindset that they themselves have had. For example, parents who can't look at a situation from a kid's point of view, married people who can't put themselves in the shoes of someone who lives alone, professionals who have forgotten what it's like to be in university, etc.

Now I'm afraid I've become one of those assholes. Please rescue me!

First, some background: My first language is English. We spoke English in the home growing up and I went to school in English. The first language I learned in school was French. I got rather good at it and took more and more French classes, then went to university to study translation, started working at bilingual jobs, and eventually graduated and became a translator.

Here's how my job works: I receive texts in one language, translate them, and deliver them to the client in the other language.

When you were reading that sentence, which language were you picturing me receiving the texts in, and which language were you picturing me delivering to the client in? Please mentally answer this question before you read on.


The fact of the matter is that I receive texts in French and translate them into English. (Some of you already knew that, I know.) This is standard operating procedure - the optimal situation is for translators to translate into their mother tongue.

But most non-translators, when they find out I'm a translator, think I translate from English to French.

Why do they think that? Did you think that when I asked you above? If so, why?

Here's where the assholery comes in: I used to think that myself. When I was aspiring to study translation but hadn't been accepted into the program yet, I thought I would be translating English to French. That's just how I assumed it would work. And I remember feeling vaguely disappointed when I found out it's French to English, as though that's something of an insult to my intelligence. But now I can't for the life of me remember why I thought that, which makes me one of those assholes.

Please, save me from my own assholery! Why did I think I'd be translating English to French?

Friday, July 23, 2010

The question no one has asked yet about the language test for new immigrants

I'm not in a position to evaluate the test itself. It pings my bad idea radar, but I can't make any definitive statements without more sample questions. And, of course, the idea of not having an exemption for people whose first (and perhaps only) language is already English or French is just as silly as it sounds. But after looking at the one sample question provided by the Toronto Star, the first question that comes to mind is:

Who stands to profit from this test?

The question provided shows a pie chart of Tomoko's expenses, broken down as follows:

Rent and food = 45%
Study materials = 25%
Clothes = 15%
Entertainment = 15%

Then some sentences about the pie chart are provided, and the candidate is instructed to correct the sentences. The first sentence given is:

Tomoko spends an equal amount of money on rent, food, study materials and entertainment.

The correct answer is to change "equal" to "unequal". But I didn't get that right away, and I don't know if it ever would have occurred to me to answer that way. I was reading the sentence wondering "Is this sentence trying to say rent=food=study materials=entertainment? Because rent and food aren't broken down separately. In any case, study materials is more than entertainment. So what are they asking me?" I probably would have ended up writing something true but far more complicated, like "Tomoko spends more on rent and food combined than on study materials, and more on study materials than on entertainment."

Part of the reason I didn't see the desired answer is because food and rent are a single item on the pie chart but listed as two separate, comma-delineated items in the question, which made me think the question is asking me for something more complicated than it is, on the assumption that this change is meaningful. In most language tests I've taken, when something is different in two different places on the same page, that's meaningful. (And I'd love to know the story of how that happened! If I or anyone on my team had been translating it, we would never have let that through and would have pointed it out to the client as something that might prevent candidates from being evaluated perfectly fairly.)

Another part of the reason is that in the many language tests and other tests I've taken and real-life situations I've been in, equal vs. unequal is never really a factor. More vs. less is a factor and specific numbers are a factor, but I have never in my life needed to think about equal vs. unequal in this sort of way. It's just never been the sort of thing that is meaningful enough to be on a test because it's so excessively obvious.

I understand the words perfectly, of course. It's just not within the scope of my experience with Things That A Test Might Be Asking Me. Understand, this sample was the very first time I've ever seen the IELTS, and this equal vs. unequal question was the very first IELTS question I ever saw. I didn't know what to expect, I didn't know if it would be insultingly easily or humblingly difficult, I didn't know what kinds of things they were looking for or what kinds of skills they were looking to test. All I had going in was a lifetime as a native speaker of English and decades of experience as a student of languages and as a student in general. It was not a failure of my English skills, it was a result of my lack of familiarity with this particular test.

"But you're just a mildly interested passer-by clicking on an internet link," you might be thinking, "In real life people prepare for tests!"

Yeah, that's why I'm wondering who profits.

In googling about this test, I found a lot of things for sale. Sample tests, exercise booklets, preparation kits, tutoring services - often at prices that would put a significant dent in a newcomer's budget. Free sample tests (some of dubious quality) certainly do exist, but for-pay materials fall into one's lap far more readily.

People do tend to get significantly lower marks when taking a test sight unseen than when they know what to expect from the test. For example, the result of my first professionally-administered IQ test was 135. Subsequent tests (both professionally-administered and not) clocked in at 150. During the first test, I just stared at the memory test pictures for the designated amount of time and struggled through the questions. In subsequent tests I knew they'd be asking things like "How many bluebirds are there?" or "What time does the store open?", so I was able to focus on those things and make good use of my memorizing time. The first time around, I guessed on every single memory question. Now, I systematically memorize the exact things they're looking for and get every question right with certainty. Familiarity with the test itself makes a massive difference, even if the candidate's skills level is the same.

And there seems to be a huge for-profit industry out there charging money to make people familiar with the IELTS test. If I were an investigative reporter looking for a juicy story, or a political partisan intent on bringing the current government down, I'd be digging into seeing exactly who stands to pocket these profits. If I were a member of the current government trying to make this policy look credible, I'd be working on making test preparation materials readily available at no cost, and/or work on making sure every single question in the version of the test administered to our immigrants is so clear and unambiguous in its expectations that there's no penalty for never having seen the test before.

Update: This is an interesting development. Language Log has determined that the sample test provided by the Star is not, in fact, a typical IELTS question. It seems it's an excerpt from unofficial training materials.

Several questions remain: So what does an actual IELTS question look like? Given that native speakers and second-language speakers make different kinds of mistakes, can the IELTS fairly and usefully assess native speakers? And what is the motivation behind suddenly testing native speakers? Is there a particular existing problem that this is meant to address? What is gained?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Things They Should Invent: penance for cheaters

This post was inspired by this David Eddie column, where a woman who has been in a committed relationship for years finds herself thinking that perhaps she might like to try being with a man.

David Eddie says:

In other words, if you plan on having an affair with someone, you should first break things off with the person with whom you are in love, and have, by your testimonial, a committed relationship.

You could do it nicely, of course. Tell her (a compassionate version of) the truth. Something like: “Listen, I have a little matter I need to get out of my system, this kooky kink called heterosexuality, and unless I do it I’m afraid I’ll always be curious and could not in good faith go through with marrying you. Of course, I understand if you say no. But do you think you could see your way clear to waiting for me while I work this out?”

It occurred to me while reading this that one of the many possible outcomes is that, while Girlfriend doesn't specifically offer to wait, maybe Ms. Bicurious discovers rather quickly that having a male partner doesn't live up to her fantasy and goes crawling back to Girlfriend while Girlfriend still loves her (because you don't just stop loving someone like flicking a switch).

And it occurred to me that if it played out this way, Girlfriend should get some kind of credit or compensation or something. After all, she was a good girl, devoted to her partner, secure in her sexuality. Shouldn't that count for something?

So what they should do is when a couple is trying to save their relationship after an affair, the marriage counsellor should impose a penance on the cheater. It could be something intended to put the wronged party's mind at ease (e.g. they're allowed to snoop in the cheater's email for six months), or it could be punitive (e.g. the cheater has to do the dishes for a year). Both parties agree on what seems reasonable, sign a contract, and when the penance is completed the cheater is deemed to have paid their debt.

This way, the wronged party gets a sense of vindication, but the debt is also considered paid off once the penance is done, so the affair isn't looming over their head to be dredged up in arguments for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How to put eyedrops in if you're squeamish

This is not a proper medically approved method. This is a method that works for me. I'm inclined to freak out at the prospect of anything getting near my eyes, but I can do this calmly and comfortably.

1. Stand with your right shoulder facing the mirror.
2. Lean in close to the mirror and look at yourself in the mirror out of the corners of your eyes, turning your head only the absolute minimum necessary. For the rest of this process you will look ONLY at the reflection in the mirror. You will not look at your own hands or body or the eyedropper; look at these things in the mirror if you need to look at them. Maintain eye contact with your reflection as much as humanly possible.
3. Hold onto the bottom outside eyelashes of your left eye, and gently pull your bottom eyelid away from your eye as far as you comfortably can.
4. Drop the eyedrops into the little pocket created by your bottom left eyelid.
5. As soon as the drops go in, let go of your eyelid, shut your eyes, and tilt your head back. (This will keep you from blinking the drops out). Return your head to the normal position and do whatever you need to do to be comfortable without blinking furiously.
6. Once you're comfortable and the drops are settled in your left eye, do the other side.

This method is useful because you can't see the eyedropper or the drops coming at your eyes, you can only see the reflection in the mirror. Using the mirror and making eye contact with your reflection makes sure your eyes stay away from the dropper, so you can go through the process almost in the third person. But using the mirror instead of going by feel makes sure you aren't surprised when the drop hits your eye, which keeps you from fighting it off.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Do you support the police? Then you should be calling for a G20 inquiry.

"The police are just decent, hard-working people doing their very best under difficult conditions."

When decent, hard-working police officers do their best under difficult conditions, the results should be ordinary, law-abiding citizens feeling at least as safe as when they went in. Even if the results of the police work are far from perfect, the involvement of the police should make the citizens feel less at risk than if the police were not present at all.

But what we have at the moment is thousands of ordinary, law-abiding citizens who are more afraid of the police than of the black bloc, and who feel less safe when they see a police officer.

A full, thorough, credible, independent inquiry empowered to produce useful and binding recommendations would identify any systemic problems that hindered these decent, hard-working police officers and turned their efforts to do their job to the very best of their ability into something that makes ordinary, law-abiding citizens feel less safe. The inquiry could then make recommendations to resolve these problems and ensure that in the future decent, hard-working police officers doing their very best produce results that make ordinary, law-abiding citizens feel safer than if there were no police around.

And, of course, if there's no actual basis for our feelings of being less safe around police, the inquiry would definitively identify that.

"People need to stop whining! So you're inconvenienced for a bit - it's to be expected!"

If the detentions of law-abiding citizens were within the range of acceptable inconvenience, a full, thorough, credible, independent inquiry will quickly identify that and then we can all move on (with the thousands of people who are feeling unsafe now feeling safe). If they did exceed the range of acceptable inconvenience, recommendations and changes will be made to ensure that in the future ordinary, law-abiding citizens - like you, perhaps - will not have to suffer anything beyond the scope of simple inconvenience if you ever happen across the threshold of a police investigation.

"If you're a law-abiding citizen, you should just shut up and support the police! They're here to protect you!"

A full, thorough, credible, independent inquiry would prove that, so people who lost trust in the police can once again support them. This would make the police's job easier in the long run. It would also help them solve crimes faster, because people who have witnessed something or otherwise have useful information would not be afraid to go to the police. If the unusual police response was due to the unique circumstances of the G20, an inquiry would definitively establish that and make it known to everyone, so we'll be confident we can trust our police under ordinary circumstances. And if there was something that did go wrong, an inquiry will identify it and come up with a solution, so anyone who was led to distrust the police during the G20 can still support them in the future.

Basically, a full, thorough, credible, independent inquiry conducted by a party acceptable to all (I've seen Sheila Fraser's name put out there) with the power to make binding recommendations will identify, highlight, vindicate, and give credit for all positive actions and accomplishments by police. It will identify anything beyond police control that made the results of their work suboptimal, so the police get none of the blame for what wasn't their fault. It will identify as groundless any groundless fear-mongering that might be out there, come up with solutions to prevent any actual problems that occurred from happening again in the future, and lay the groundwork for rebuilding the public's trust.

If you want the police to get credit for their hard work, you should support an inquiry. If you want to make sure the police don't get blamed for anything that isn't their fault, you should support an inquiry. If you want to debunk anti-police fear-mongering, you should support an inquiry. If you want the public to trust the police, you should support the inquiry. If you, in any way, support the police, you should support an inquiry.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Analogy for trust

This is a rerun straight from the braindump. As was I working on deconstructing and reconstructing it coherently, I realized this needs to be its own post.

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 to prevent me from repeating the same pattern 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.

Wanted: food price controls

Dear Governments:

Please give us food price controls!

This week I was thrilled to buy my very first basket of Ontario peaches of the season! I'm not normally a seasonal fetishist (I tend to roll my eyes when people use "seasonal" as the be-all and end-all of positive adjectives), but peaches are one of the foods where imports really don't taste nearly as good as the local and seasonal variety that came off the tree less than 24 hours before I bought them.

I saw some Ontario peaches in the supermarket earlier this week, but the ones in the farmer's market are usually better and yummier. So I waited until market day, looked at all the farmers' tables and chose the very best-looking basket of peaches, and handed over my money. $7. Rather a lot for fruit, but I'm willing to pay.

Then, later the same day, I went to the supermarket to buy ice cream. It wasn't anything particularly special, just regular commercial ice cream. I don't normally buy large tubs of ice cream (I don't have the space in either my freezer or my jeans) but the flavour I wanted didn't come in anything smaller than 2L (#FirstWorldProblems), so I bought that. It cost me $5.

I also noticed that the crappy California import peaches were like $2 or $3 for a basket, even though they've had to be driven all the way up here on a truck.

And meanwhile, McDonald's has a dollar menu.

This is not right! Of all the foods I've described here, it's best - for me, for the environment, for public health, for the local economy - for me to be eating the Ontario peaches. They should be most affordable! If I had hungry children and limited money, the Ontario peaches would be completely out of reach, and McDonald's would be my best bet for making sure no one goes to bed hungry.

I shouldn't even be thinking "Well, peaches are expensive, but I'm willing to pay." I should be thinking "Well, potato chips are expensive, but I'm willing to pay." And then buying local fruit straight from the farmer to save money.

Dear Governments: Please give us food price controls! Charge a levy on my potato chips and use the money to make the peaches more affordable while still paying the farmer decent compensation. I want to pay $7 for the privilege of eating a bag of chemically potato chips, so that I can pay $2 for a basket of peaches straight off the tree.

I don't mind all the taxes and levies and whatnot on alcohol, because I do agree that it's a "sin" (in the "sin tax" sense, not in the catholic sense) and an indulgence. I have no objection to the principle of eco fees, it's just the way they're being implemented (not on the price tag, added at the register with no warning) that's a problem. I'm more than happy to pay extra for subpar purchases in order to make more optimal purchases more affordable.

The relative prices of food are broken. We as individuals can't fix it ourselves, we need broader policy to make this happen. Help us! Fix it! Give us affordable responsible choices, less-affordable irresponsible choices, and a decent income for our farmers. We can't do it alone!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sexy Tunes

An assortment of sexy tunes to end off the week:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Their parents must be so proud"

I've seen variations on this (clearly sarcastic) statement in many of the places where pictures/videos of G20 vandals are posted.

What I don't understand: why would you say that? What do their parents have to do with anything, and how did it occur to the speaker to mention them in the first place?

Are the people who make this statement implying that they shouldn't have been vandalizing specifically because it would embarrass their parents? If so, do the people who say this take their parents' reactions into account when making everyday choices? Because I don't know about you, but I don't give it a moment's thought - it's just completely irrelevant.

Or are they implying something else? If so, what?

I can't even begin to fathom why this would be anyone's reaction, but I've seen it an awful lot. Help me understand.

Wherein the Senate forces me to rethink everything I've ever learned at all ever

My first impressions of the Senate came when I was a child (somewhere in the 9-12 age range) from overhearing the adults around me. It was the lazy fat cat sort of stereotype that's useful for Air Farce sketches and Toronto Sun headlines. The sort of thing that's clearly A Problem.

Then when I started translating and started looking at bits of the Hansard on a regular basis, I gained a more nuanced perspective. They do actually have a role. They do actually do stuff. The fact that they're appointed does serve a purpose.

This is a normal learning arc for me. I start with a crude idea of the concept in question absorbed from my environment, then as I learn more I gain a more nuanced view that questions many of the assumptions I grew up with. That's what always happens, with everything.

But with yesterday's events, it seems I was wrong about my more nuanced view of the Senate, and the stereotypes I grew up with were more accurate.

So were the nuances I thought I saw not really there? Where did I get these ideas from? And how can I trust other things that I see as more nuanced than I once thought they where? Or was what I saw once true, and the nature of the Senate has changed just recently?

If this isn't a fluke or a very recent change, then this will have been the first time in my life that a dynamic opinion has ever changed direction for me. I've always trusted the direction of my dynamic opinions because they've always served me well, but if this one's wrong then the rest of them might be wrong.

So now I have to learn a whole lot about the Senate. I have to learn whether this vote is typical or whether they're usually more intelligent about these things. I have to track how often votes follow party lines uber alles. Because until I figure this out, I don't know how much I can trust everything I've always known about how my mind works and how I learn.

I don't have time for this!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sober second thought: ur doin it wrong

As I've blogged about before, my experience with the Senate (like my experience with the House of Commons) comes in one-sentence slices from the Hansard. I have tools where I enter a word or phrase and it searches the Hansard (and other sources, but I like the Hansard best for many things) for every occurrence of that word or phrase, and shows every sentence where it occurs alongside the translation for that sentence. It's a good way to get a quick sense of the scope of an expression's meaning and some ideas for how to translate it. I can expand any sentence to see the whole context whenever I want; sometimes I do it for translation purposes, sometimes just because I'm curious about WTF led a person to utter that particular bizarre sentence. I'll admit I never actually followed a bill all the way through from start to finish, but I have glimpsed thousands of little slices of Senate and House of Commons life, like if you had CPAC on in the background all the time instead of CP24.

From this vantage point, I developed a sense that the Senate is in fact a chamber of sober second thought. It has always looked less partisan to me (I can very rarely tell the party affiliation of the speaker in the Senate Hansard, but I can almost always tell in the House of Commons Hansard), more measured and controlled and dignified, and more concerned with getting the legislation right than with scoring political points.

Because of this impression, I haven't supported Senate reform. I was concerned that having senators run for election would make them more likely to play partisan politics like their Commons counterparts, which would eliminate any value they add. I strongly believed that their unelected nature and lifetime appointments gave them the safety net they needed to stay above the political fray and speak truth to power.

This is why I was absolutely shocked today to see that the Senate passed the budget bill without amendment. I was shocked not only that they passed a budget bill containing all kinds of things that are outside the scope of a budget bill, but also that the vote basically came down to bums in seats and party lines. If that's what we wanted, we wouldn't need a Senate! The House of Commons already does that!

This omnibus bill was precisely the sort of excessive political whim that the Senate was created to protect Canadians from. Regardless of how you feel about its component parts, splitting it up and voting on the component parts separately would have been the right thing to do. If they aren't going to take advantage of the security provided by their lifetime appointments to rise above the fray, look beyond party lines, and give Canadians sober second thought, then we quite simply have no use for a Senate.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why are people absolving the black bloc of basic personal responsibility?

This post builds on ideas from my G20 braindump and occurred to me while reading this post from James Bow, but can be read without prerequisites.

A lot of people have been asking lately "Why didn't the legitimate demonstrators do anything to stop the black bloc?" (And, indeed, that has been used as justification for Queen & Spadina.) Some have asked in return why the police didn't do anything to stop the black bloc. Some have pointed out that that people did try (both successfully and unsuccessfully). Some have pointed out that the black bloc people were taking a different route than the main march, so the leaders among the legitimate demonstrators wouldn't have been in the areas. Some have pointed out that the black bloc were simply vandalizing property, not putting anyone's life and safety at risk, and if you call 911 to report a property crime in progress the operator will tell you to stay out of the way and keep yourself safe.

My first thought, as I mentioned in #9 of my braindump, was that not everyone can make people listen to them. People tend not to listen to me, so I normally couldn't stop them no matter how hard I tried.

But then, while reading James Bow, it occurred to me that in real life, in the regular adult world, there is no "Why didn't you stop him?" We are held responsible for our own actions; the people next to us aren't held responsible (directly or indirectly) for our actions. I can best explain with a couple of real-life examples.

Example 1: when we met Eddie Izzard, I went babbly stupid and made a complete ass of myself. Everyone else in our group was cool, but my idiocy reflected poorly on our entire group, thus depriving everyone of whatever awesomeness happens when a celebrity thinks you're cool. If Poodle's cool friends weren't far too polite to say anything, they might have said to me "WTF are you being such an idiot for?" However, they wouldn't have said to, say, TravelMaus (who was adjacent to but unaffiliated with our group) "WTF are you letting her be such an idiot for?" They wouldn't even have said that to Poodle, who was the one who brought me to the stage door in the first place. They might have asked him in a private moment "So what's her deal? Is she completely socially inept?" But it wouldn't have occurred to anyone to hold someone else responsible for not stopping me from being an idiot. My idiocy is on me, even when it ruins things for everyone.

Example 2: once one of my co-workers tried to bring his new dog into the office to show it off. The building security guards stopped him and told him dogs aren't allowed in the building. I repeat: they stopped him, the man with the dog. They didn't stop the people walking into the building next to him and tell them not to let him bring the dog in. So then he hung out with the dog outside the building, and some of us came outside to meet the dog. We walked right out the front door and then petted and played with the dog in full view of the security guards. We were quite clearly pro-dog and anyone with half a brain could see that we had probably encouraged the dog infiltration. But they didn't do anything because playing with a dog outside the building is totally allowed. They didn't scold us for wanting the dog in the building, they scolded the person who actually brought the dog into the building. Because that's how the world works. If you do something that's not allowed, you aren't absolved of your responsibility just because there are people doing nothing to stop you, and perhaps even watching with interest.

So why should the bad guys get a bye?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dear retailers: please include eco-fees in the sticker price

Dear retailers:

When I'm shopping, what I want to know is how many dollars I have to give you to acquire a specific product. I don't care why I have to pay you which dollars, I don't care where the money is allocated. I just want to know how much money I have to pay. Including the eco-fee in the sticker price does this. However, adding it on as a separate line item at the register is completely useless and makes me feel cheated, like those phone companies that advertise a low price and then add a system access fee and a 911 fee and a touch-tone fee (how are system access and 911 and touch tone not part of phone service?) or when I get my hydro bill and see a charge of $12 for the electricity I used and then an additional nearly $30 in regulatory charges and delivery charges and debt retirement charges and administrative charges.

Itemizing bills like this is useless. It's as meaningless to me as if you tell me that $X went to raw materials and $Y went to labour and $Z went to transportation costs. I don't care! Just tell me how many dollars you want for it! Posting one price and then adding additional fees that either aren't posted or that you have to look hard for is completely uninformative. "This costs $15, plus some extra amounts that we aren't going to tell you."

I blogged before about how I want them to include sales tax in the price, and some people mentioned that it used to be that way and people found it untransparent. So if they want to provide a breakdown on the price tag and/or on the receipt, that's fine. But please, I implore you, make the big price on the label the total, including eco-fees (and, ideally, sales taxes and any other additional fees there might be). Doing this would make me feel full-informed. Not doing it makes me feel cheated.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Immigration policy FAIL

This article mentions in passing the Canadian immigration policy I hate the most:

Badwal [age 35] met Shahi, 30, online in 2006. She lived in Brampton; he lived in a dusty village in Punjab, India. Soon, they exchanged photographs and were chatting on the phone. In November 2007, Badwal, who then worked for the Royal Bank of Canada, went to India and they got married.

“I totally believed he was the right person for me,” said Badwal. “He was open-minded, nice, attentive ...”

She returned to Canada and, in March 2008, filed an application to sponsor him. In December, the application was rejected because of the age difference and compatibility issues, said Badwal.

I absolutely detest the fact that if you want to sponsor your spouse to come to Canada, Immigration has to approve the match. And they reject applications on such ridiculous grounds as a five-year age difference in a couple in their 30s.

Now you might be thinking "But this guy ended up being a fraud. They were right to reject his application!" But if they were going to reject his application because he's a fraud, it should have been on the grounds that he's a fraud. Using a five-year age difference as a reason to reject an application destroys any credibility they might have had.

As Canadian citizens, we can marry each other as stupidly as we want. I could propose to that scraggly homeless guy who walks around wrapped in a blanket with no pants and offer him an air conditioned apartment and a dental plan in exchange for spider-killing services and the right to use the phrase "my husband" in casual conversation. It would undoubtedly be a foolish thing to do, but at no point in the process would any government official scrutinize our relationship to evaluate whether it's a suitable match.

We also need to be able to enter into international marriages that are suboptimal matches, or foolishly impulsive, or ill-advised, or consensual marriages of convenience. As long as both parties fulfill the sponsorship agreement and they aren't defrauding each other, anything goes. If Immigration truly has to investigate relationships to prevent fraud, they need to figure out a way to detect genuine fraud without deeming invalid perfectly consensual marriages that are beyond the reach of some petty functionary's imagination. If a relationship can be deemed unsuitable because of a five-year age difference, what other perfectly legitimate relationships are being rejected?

Our country decided, long before I was born, that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. This should also apply for immigration policy.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Three more G20 questions

1. As I blogged about recently, there have been instances of authorities making observably blatantly false statements in the media. The two I noticed were G20 Director General Sanjeev Chowdhury's assertion that downtown Toronto is empty on weekends, and Police Chief Bill Blair's (admittedly clever) attempt to imply that there's no valid reason why an innocent passer-by would be at Queen & Spadina on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

But who was their target audience for these statements? Who were they trying to win over? By making such clearly false statements, they are losing all credibility in the eyes of the hundreds of thousands (millions? probably millions when you include tourists and former residents) of people who have seen these parts of the city with their own eyes. Which also means that the people they are trying to win over aren't among these millions. So who are these people who have never been to downtown Toronto, who are so concerned about the quality of security response in Toronto, and whose favour is so important that they're willing to throw away their credibility in the eyes of the millions?

2. A number of parties have gone out of their way to laud the police, most astonishingly City Council's recent vote to “commend the outstanding work” of the police department.

My question: What exactly did the police do that these parties think is exceptionally good?

I think we can all agree that rounding up and detaining hundreds of innocent people is subpar police work. We expect better of our police. And I think we can all agree that letting the black bloc people run their full gamut, change clothes, and vanish into the crowd unhindered when outnumbered 50 to one by police is also subpar police work.

So this means that, in some area, the police must have exceeded expectations. Especially for City Council to go out of their way to have this symbolic vote two weeks after the fact, when they could have just quietly gone about City business and no one would have noticed. So what did the police do that was good enough to outweigh the bad and earn them laurels whose absence would have gone unnoticed?

3. It seems that the G20 themselves are especially concerned about having all countries reduce their debt. My question, and you might have to explain it slowly because I have no economics training: why does a country care about other countries' debt levels? How does US or British or Greek debt affect Canada?

Is this analogous to individuals' household debt? I have always felt vaguely safer because I have less debt than most of my contemporaries. Am I mistaken in this feeling, and if so, why? Is my neighbour's debt really bad for me? If so, how?

Quick thought

From the Twitter-worthy but too long for Twitter files:

There seem to be some people out there who think the fact that the police rounded up and arrested a whole bunch of innocent people makes up for the fact that they didn't stop any of the black bloc vandals. As though mass arrests of passers-by aren't another problem. As though it all averages out. There was even a letter to the editor of the Globe & Mail to the effect of "People complain that the police didn't do enough on Saturday and did too much on Sunday. Maybe they did just right?"

These people should be arrested.

Seriously. It's perfectly consistent with the internal logic of the universe they occupy. They'll think they're helping the police solve crimes.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Why I feel the police are currently the biggest threat to me

This post builds on ideas from my G20 braindump. There may be some repetition.

Let's brainstorm. What bad things could happen to me in normal everyday life?

I could be attacked. I could be sexually assaulted. I could be robbed. I could be abducted.

The police attacked people - there are bruises to show for it. There are reports of the police sexually assaulting people. There are reports of people getting their personal effects confiscated and not getting them back. Plainclothes police grabbed people off the street and threw them in vans and detained them for 36 hours.

Now you're thinking "Yeah, sure, 'there are reports'. We weren't there, we don't know the whole story, we just have someone else's word" That's true. That's also the case where these things are done by non-police perps. I have never witnessed anyone being attacked, sexually assaulted, robbed, or abducted. I've just heard tell about it. But it still needs to be considered a credible threat.

But the difference between regular bad guys doing bad things and the police doing bad things is that it's easier to stop regular bad guys. If some random attacks me while, a passer-by who intervenes would be a hero. If police attack me, a passer-by who intervenes would be charged with obstructing justice. (To say nothing of the fact that many passers-by would assume I'm a bad guy by virtue of the very fact that I'm being attacked by police, whereas being attacked by a random automatically makes me a damsel in distress.) Plus, yes, there is the fact that if a bad guy grabs me and takes me away, the police might try to find me, whereas if the police detain me there's nothing much anyone can do.

Now you're thinking "Exactly! The police are the ones who try to find you when a bad guy abducts you! That's why you should trust them." But that, too, is the case with non-police perps. There are all kinds of not-purely-trustworthy characters out there who might help you when you face a bigger risk. For example, I was once riding on a subway late at night when a drunk guy got on and started verbally harassing people (including me). Another man, a rather shady-looking character, intervened and got rid of the drunken harasser. (He was rather clever about it, too. When we pulled into the next station, he said to the drunk guy "Hey man, this is your stop." The drunk guy replied "Thanks, man!" and got off.) But that doesn't mean I should inherently trust shady-looking men on the subway late at night. They're still a credible threat unless proven otherwise.

Analogy: Some, and maybe even most, strange men on subways are actually nice guys who will protect a damsel in distress. But imagine if there were reports of a number of men who, whenever they saw a woman being harassed in public, would grab her, throw her in their van against her will, and lock her in their basement for a couple of days for safekeeping. Then, just to be safe, they go back out and grab every other woman they can find and do the same. Suddenly, all strange men are threats, even if they are purportedly trying to protect us.

Understand, I'm a law-abiding citizen. I've never been in any sort of trouble, never even had a ticket. If the police have any record of me whatsoever, all it will show is the police checks that I've passed for my job so I can be entrusted with confidential and personal information.

But the police can hurt me as badly as anyone else can, while making it harder for others to help me than if I were being hurt by a civilian bad guy. And based on what we saw during the G20, I cannot trust that the fact that I'm doing nothing wrong will be enough to make them not want to hurt me. So they are a credible threat unless proven otherwise.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Things They Should Invent: free esthetics services in nursing homes

A friend of mine used to be a personal support worker in a nursing home. Once she was telling me about how when the residents had people visiting them, they'd get their hair done and she'd help them get dressed in their favourite clothes etc., and one of the things she said she did was shaved their whiskers. Like on female patients.

I was shocked. "You don't tweeze?" I asked, "Or thread? Or wax or sugar?"
"I'm not an esthetician!" my friend replied.

That makes me want to weep. I've had whiskers since adolescence - a few coarse, dark hairs that grow out of my chin and would probably grow to be a couple of inches long if I let them. They disgust me, so my morning and evening beauty routines include a visual and tactile inspection for any emerging coarse hairs, which are then promptly and ruthlessly pulled out with tweezers. Using tweezers makes them grow back slower and less frequently, but if they had to be shaved off with a razor then I'd have masculine stubble by dinnertime. And since it seems to be done only for special occasions, that means they're probably walking around with visible long whiskers the rest of the time. They're in a nursing home and need a PSW to help them dress and groom, they probably lack the dexterity and/or eyesight to take care of it themselves.

I hate my masculine body hair - it's a humiliation - so the idea of being sentenced to the rest of my life without ever having my always-visible facial hair properly groomed makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out. But a more appropriate-for-female-facial-hair method of hair removal is beyond the scope and/or the skill set of the PSW.

So what they need is esthetician services in nursing homes. They already have some provisions for a barber and/or hairdresser (because you don't see elders sitting around nursing homes with long hippie hair), so just adding an esthetician shouldn't be too difficult. And services that bring the patient up to general social standards of grooming (removal of facial hair from the root, separation of unibrows, etc.) should be included in the price of the nursing home. The esthetician should be empowered to recommend treatments rather than waiting for the patient to ask, because patients with failing eyesight or cognitive abilities might not be able to or think to ask to have their chin waxed.

A patient who can't bathe themselves properly gets help from someone professionally trained in bathing patients. A patient who can't control their waste functions get a colostomy bag from someone professionally trained in installing such things. So why not also provide basic personal grooming services by someone professionally trained? It's a matter of dignity!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Just a fun mash-up to round out the weekend

Now I understand what "semantic chicanery" means

I once knew someone whose favourite phrase was "semantic chicanery". Cool combination of words, fun to day, but I didn't grok it. At least not until I heard this quote from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair regarding Queen and Spadina:

“This was not a site where somebody casually walked up to catch a bus”

This is factually correct. No one at Queen and Spadina would be trying to catch a bus. But this is only because both Queen and Spadina both have streetcars.

However, the connotations of the statement - that this isn't a place where people would find themselves accidentally unless they were deliberately up to mischief - are blatantly, observably false. Anyone who has ever been to Queen and Spadina - or indeed any other major intersection in Toronto - knows that there's myriad of perfectly valid, non-protest-related reasons why someone might be there.

I know the police know better and are well aware of the natural traffic patterns of our neighbourhood. There was once a high-profile investigation in my neighbourhood - mobile command centre parked across the street from me and everything. Internet commentators who were obviously not part of the neighbourhood had theories that were absolutely ridiculous when you've observed how people use the space IRL, but police activity appeared to be directed into precisely the right places, without following any of the red herrings being bandied about on the internet. They know their turf.

So with Bill Blair apparently attempting to mislead the public on the very nature of the neighbourhood, combined with G20 Director General Sanjeev Chowdhury's statement that the downtown core is empty on weekends, I can't help but wonder what else they're lying to our faces about. That Queen & Spadina is full of all kinds of people doing all kinds of legitimate things and that downtown is full of people at all times are both clearly observable facts. There are tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of people who have observed them with their own eyes. You wouldn't even think to fact-check them because you can observe them. It would be like if I lied to you about how many stories tall my building is.

There are lots of other, very important things that are less immediate observable. How much of that are they lying to us about?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Why are plainclothes police officers allowed to grab people off the street?

I missed this at first in all the commotion, but:

Although the group was peaceful and chanting, mayhem erupted at about noon, seemingly without warning. A black van pulled up and four plainclothes officers emerged, darted into the crowd and quickly snatched a man and a woman.

We are finding police are meeting them there with brutality,” she said. “They are circling groups of people in smaller groups. We have seen plainclothes officers snatching people and throwing them into cars.”

A man is detained as a peaceful protest descended into chaos after plain clothes officers pulled up in a van in front of the protestors and raced into the crowd to grab several suspects, in front of the temporary detention centre at Eastern Ave. and Pape Ave.

So a bunch of strange men grab me and try to throw me in a van. You know what? At that point, I'm fighting for my life. If they're in plain clothes and an unmarked vehicle, you have no way of knowing they're cops. This doesn't even give you the opportunity to go along peacefully, because you're operating under the assumption that you're being abducted.

And if you are being abducted the further away your abductors take you, the less chance you have of escaping. So you're doing everything it takes, no matter the risk, to stop them. I've given a lot of thought to what I'd do if someone tries to grab me off the street, and that includes trying to run into traffic, trying to crash the vehicle that we're in, trying to blind or disable the driver while he's driving - at this point I'm quite willing to risk my life. So how is this even a good idea from a policing perspective? I'm sure it puts the officers at much greater risk, because the people are assuming they're being abducted and therefore fighting for their life. Sure, they could shout at the person that they're police while trying to subdue them, but are you going to take your abductor's word on that? Are you going to stop fighting off your abductor to check ID?

And how much you want to bet these people still got charged with resisting arrest?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Let's identify the guy who wrecked the police cruisers

Here's a video of two of the police cruisers getting wrecked:

As you can see, it's one guy responsible for a lot of the wrecking. Other people are watching or filming or trying to de-escalate or doing their own thing or playing with the siren.

Here is a really good picture that multiple people (including eyewitnesses) agree is the same person. Looks like the same person to me too.

The wrecked cruisers would probably be what pissed off the police the most and, whether they'll admit it or not, led to all the subsequent horrendous treatment that our people suffered.

So let's identify him. Does he look familiar? Have you seen him around? Report what you have to CrimeStoppers. OpenFile is also trying to find him. This would be a good story for mainstream media to pick up.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

My personal Vimy

I've known as long as I can remember that Vimy Ridge was a WWI battle that took place in France. It's the sort of thing you absorb from your environment, just like you can name-check Dieppe and Ypres and Hastings and Hiroshima.

I studied it formally in Grade 10 History class. My teacher spent rather a lot of time on it, detailing the historical significance of having all the Canadian divisions working together in a Canadian-led operation, enumerating all the bravery and valour, and describing the influence this victory had on Canada's self-concept, making Canadians feel like they're their own proper grown-up country that they can be proud of rather than a colonial branch plant of the UK.

He then look at us expectantly, as though he expected us to suddenly have a changed view of our country. But I felt nothing. My concept of my country was exactly the same. I'd learned the material, I could rattle off the correct answer to the test, but it had no influence whatsoever on my view of my Canada, because it's something that has always been there.


The year is 2003. George W. Bush is president of the United States. I'd just finished my last semester of university, and in between completing final projects and frantically trying to find a job and an apartment for after graduation, I'd been protesting the invasion of Iraq and trying to keep Canada out. Every day a new right-wing political outrage would arrive in my inbox.

At the time of this story, I was in Quebec. When I'm in Quebec I like to immerse myself, so I had the TV tuned to RDI while I went about my evening chores. Suddenly, I heard something that made me stop and stare at the TV. That can't possibly be right! I must have misheard! But I couldn't imagine anything else that combination of words could possibly mean. I ran to the computer and pulled up an English-language news site. I'd heard correctly. Same-sex marriage had just become legal in Ontario.

It just smacked me in the face. I live somewhere that I can be proud of! We aren't a branch plant of the US, we're different! And better!


I was 22 years old when this happened, and it was the first time I was ever actively proud of my country. Before, I could rattle off all the reasons I should be proud of my country and conjure up an appropriate response, but this was the first time I actually felt it in my gut, unprovoked.

One day, in a couple of decades, we will be celebrating the 20th or 25th anniversary of the legalization of same-sex marriage. I will be in my late 40s, with lines on my face like my father's and salt-and-pepper hair dyed chestnut like my mother's, wearing no-line bifocals as though that little line is the only thing that betrays my age. My co-workers and I (for in my imagined future I'm still in the same workplace with the same co-workers) will sit around the break room reminiscing. Where were you when you first heard? Who was the first same-sex married couple you knew? When was your first big gay wedding? Newspapers will tell the story of how this all came about, track down the court justices and the Michaels and do "Where are they now?" profiles. And in our office will be some new hires, kids in their early 20s just out of university, who will look at all this fuss we're making and feel nothing, because for them it will be something that has always been there.

I very much look forward to that day.

Happy Canada Day and Happy Pride Week!