Monday, August 30, 2010

Current annoyances

1. My G1 licence (which I only have for ID) expired a while back, so today I went to Service Ontario at College Park to renew it. I was a good girl and arrived nice and early at 8:30. I was given a ticket with a number in the 50s. By 10:30, the numbers had only made it as far as 25. I had to be at work at 11, so I had to leave. All that getting up early and waiting in line for nothing! I've never before in my life been in a situation where two hours of waiting in line time wasn't enough to get a simple errand like that done! So now to add insult to injury, I'm going to have to take another day off, wake up early, and spend literally half the day waiting in line.

This is particularly annoying because for years I have been writing to provincial politicians encouraging them to create an ID card that has the same ID value as a driver's licence, but does not entitle the bearer to drive. I'm sure there are blog posts on this subject somewhere within the archives. They already have the resources to screen people and photograph people and issue this ID, and they could even make money off it because initially at least they could totally get away with charging the same fee as for a G1. This would solve the ID problem for people who are medically unable to drive, make the line move faster because they wouldn't have to conduct knowledge and eye tests of all G1 applicants, and facilitate the process of getting seniors to stop driving when the time comes (it's a lot easier to get Grandma to give up driving if she no longer has a driver's licence, and it's a lot easier to get her to let her driver's licence lapse if she doesn't need it to open a fricking bank account).

Few things in life annoy me more than when I've solved a problem and communicated the solution to the people who can make it happen, but still have to be inconvenienced because they won't make it happen and I can't do it unilaterally.

2. I recently started subscribing to Discovery Health because they have a morning exercise show. It's called All-Star Workout, and it's really quite good. Good variety, suitable intensity, easy to follow - totally worth the extra $2.79 a month on my cable bill. But now it looks like they're discontinuing that show come September, which means that there are NO English-language non-yoga exercise shows on in the morning on any of the channels Rogers provides. (Yoga is fantastic, but I put on weight if I do only yoga.)

What happened? There used to be a number of different ones to choose from, and now there are none. Surely I'm not the only one who finds this the most convenient way to exercise. You can do it in the privacy of your own home, it doesn't cost anything (other than cable fees, which most people are paying anyway), it provides far more variety than you'd get from DVDs and more innovation than you could come up with yourself.

So now, in addition to simply motivating myself to exercise, I have to come up with how to exercise. My entire adult life, I've just turned on the TV and done what it tells me, and it's worked well. But now I have to make my own plan, figure out whether to get DVDs or a Wii or what, and this for something that I absolutely detest doing. Exercise is the least favourite of all my chores!

In the US, they have a TV channel called FitTV that shows exercise programs all day every day. We should have that here! It would be beneficial to public health! We're always hearing about how people are too sedentary and need to exercise more, so why not make it as easy as humanly possible? You turn on the TV any time of the day or night, and someone is there to guide you through your workout. What could be easier? We could even just use the US TV channel, just have our cable companies carry it. They do carry some TV channels from other countries directly, and surely FitTV would be more beneficial to Canadian society than, say, Spike.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How can the median family income be three times the median individual income?

From an otherwise unrelated article:

So in a city where, according to the 2006 census, individuals earned a median income of $26,754 a year, and annual family median income was $75,829 and declining, councillors’ wages are nothing to sneer at.

How is the median family income three times the median individual income? The vast majority of families/households (not sure why they chose the word "family" instead of "household", but I don't think that's relevant here) have either one or two breadwinners.

I do understand what the word median means, and I do understand that because we're talking about the median, these two numbers are not mathematically related to each other. But it does seem like they should be closer. Just applying logic, you'd assume that the family income is more than 100% but less than 200% of the individual income. But instead it's nearly 300%. What's going on here?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tragic ungoogleability

This is Monty Python's Galaxy Song:

Very useful for science students! Except who does astrophysics in miles any more?

What this song really needs is a metric version! I've been saying that ever since Grade 12 Physics class, and every once in a while I google to see if anyone has done it yet.

Unfortunately, it seems the band Metric has a song called "Twilight Galaxy", which renders a metric version of the galaxy song very difficult to google. This is a tragedy for science students everywhere!

If you write a metric version of Monty Python's Galaxy Song, or find one elsewhere and want to link to it, make sure you include "Monty Python" in the title to preserve what little googleability is left!

Why people who support mayoral candidate Rob Ford's ideas should be concerned about him

1. Rob Ford "forgot" that he was charged with drug possession in the US. Regardless of whether or not the drug charges themselves are a problem, forgetting that they happened (and this only 11 years ago) is a problem. Do you remember your last encounter with police? Yes you do. Do you remember every encounter you've ever had with police? Probably. I do, and they weren't even negative. Dealing with police is unusual, inconvenient, a break from routine, and pretty scary. Having it happen in another country with strict drug laws is even scarier. So how could he have forgotten it? Is he losing his faculties? Does he face police charges so often that they've become routine? Or does he think his constituency is so stupid they won't notice that there's something wrong with this picture? I can't imagine any scenario that wouldn't be a cause for concern among his supporters.

2. Rob Ford wants to stop immigrants from moving to Toronto, saying we have too many people already. Remember when you first moved to Toronto? All the application forms you had to fill out? The stress of waiting for acceptance? Of course not, because it doesn't work that way. You just show up. Secure housing and move in. Or don't secure housing first if you don't want to, just show up. Being able to live wherever you want in Canada is an actual, enshrined-in-the-Charter capital-R Right. The mayor of a city can in no way do anything about it. So why bring it up as though it's actionable? Does he egregiously misunderstand the scope of powers of mayor? Or does he think his constituency is so stupid they're unaware of how it works? I can't imagine any scenario that wouldn't be a cause for concern among his supporters.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to spot an optimistic Francophone

I already knew that there are two French words for the ordinal number "second" (deuxième and second), but I only very recently learned the difference between the two. It turns out second is used when there are only two things being counted, and deuxième is used when there are more than two.

So here's my theory: if you want to tell if a Francophone is an optimist or a pessimist, as them the name of the war that took place in Europe in 1939-1945. If they say «Seconde Guerre mondiale», they are an optimist. If they say «Deuxième Guerre mondiale», they are a pessimist.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A horse

Today I saw a police horse for the first time since the G20. (If you're just tuning in, the reason why this is significant is described in anecdote #1 here.) I was glad to see that I still reacted to it like a beautiful animal rather than like a police weapon, but I still didn't feel safe. My first reaction was "Oh, wow, a horse!" But an instant later I was instinctively looking around for kettling escape routes, getting my phone out of my purse in case I need to document anything, and hastening towards the subway hoping not to attract the attention of the police officer.

Before the G20, I probably would have approached the horse, engaged the officer in conversation, found out the horse's name and asked if I could pet him, taken a picture, maybe had a look at that interesting horse trailer set-up he had going on. It would have been a positive experience, community relations, a citizen taking interest in the work our police do. But instead I hurried along with my head down trying to be invisible, just like my relatives did when they were oppressed behind the Iron Curtain, before they managed to flee to Canada.

In the aftermath of the G20, there was a hashtag on Twitter called #MyToronto. People used this hashtag to post things that are awesome about Toronto - our real city, not the police state it had been transformed into. I posted pictures of Pride and Yonge St. hockey celebrations, descriptions of cars with two World Cup flags and children peering out the front window of the subway car, anecdotes of multilingualism and diversity and street life.

But the very first #MyToronto moment of my life was that day, ten years ago, when my newly-arrived teenage self got to pet a police horse in the middle of a busy downtown. That was my very first glimpse of how the city promises me something bigger and better than I'd ever imagined. That was the very first step in the process that would turn The Big City into My City.

And now it's gone.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cute of the day

Did you go look at how big the Pakistan flood is? If not, go look at it now.

Did you look at it? Really?

Okay, now you can watch the monkey with the pet kitten

You need to drop everything and look at this right now

Remember that website that project the oil spill onto a map centred on your hometown?

Now they have one that does the same thing with the Pakistan flood.

You really need to look at this. Seriously. It's so much bigger than I ever thought possible. It's even bigger than I thought it would be after people told me it's so much bigger than I ever thought possible.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A concrete improvement to one of the TTC panel recommendations

I've been reading the TTC Customer Service Panel Report (PDF), and I thought of a way to improve upon Recommendation 2R.

The report says:


Many customers stand right in the doorway of the subway cars, which blocks and slows down passengers getting on or off.

RECOMMENDATION 2R: Review Subway Door Signage

The TTC should review the current signs that say, "Do not block doorway.” A more effective sign should be developed and used on all subway car doors.

This issue would be better addressed by thinking about why people stand in doorways.

People stand in the doorways because those little red and clear wall-like things next to the doorways are convenient to lean against. It's easy to stay balanced there, and you can even have your hands free to read or text or game. To address this - especially if there's still time to tweak the design of the new subway cars - they need to make the doorways less convenient places to stand, and other parts of the subway car more convenient places to stand.

In terms of immediate action, the best thing they could do install a rail down the centre of the ceiling of trains that don't already have a rail there. (Some do and some don't). When there's no centre ceiling rail, it's very difficult to stand in the aisle, so more people will gravitate to other parts of the trains (including all the nice convenient walls and bars near the door). A centre rail enables tall people at least to stand comfortably in the middle of the aisle, well away from the doors, without fear of losing balance. It won't solve the whole problem, but it will help.

In the more long term, the ideal would be good handsfree standing places that aren't near the door.

The other thing to keep in mind is that it's totally okay to stand in front of the doors that aren't going to open. If I'm riding north on Yonge from downtown and getting off at Eglinton, it's totally okay for me to stand in front of the left-hand doors, because all the downtown stations use the right-hand doors and Eglinton is the first station to open on the left. I'm in front of the doors the whole time, but totally out of everyone's way.

However, sometimes people block doors because they don't know which doors are going to open next. Longtime riders on familiar routes know, but people who are new to a given route sometimes stand in front of the wrong door thinking they're diligently keeping out of the way. If there was some kind of visual or audio signal indicating which doors are going to open next, people could get themselves out of the way before the train pulls into the station.


Also, I just had to add this really bizarre thing from the Panel's proposed list of customer responsibilities:

Never run to catch the bus, streetcar, or subway. This is dangerous for you as well as other riders.

I see the argument for not running on a subway platform. However, by telling us not to run for a bus or streetcar, they'd be basically telling us not to run down the street! Sorry, TTC, but that's out of your jurisdiction. We can evaluate the risk of running down the street for ourselves, thanks.

I sincerely hope they choose not to retain that particular wording.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Things They Should Invent: standardized, widely-known way for children to make clear that they're just being cheerful to be polite

(This actually stems from another blog post that I'm hoping to get up today (the one about the secret to unhappiness, if it's up by the time you're reading this). I started composing the other one first but this one just came barging in and wrote itself beginning to end.)

I dislike the word "sulking" and similar concepts. They trivialize a person's emotions by implying that they're feeling those emotions for the sole purpose of annoying other people. Think about your own life. When you feel a negative emotion, is it in any way about how other people will feel about it? Of course not! Your emotion is your emotion, and you're expressing it because it's what you're feeling.

(I always find it especially bizarre when parents say their child us "up sulking in their room." Remember when you were a kid and, for whatever reason, weren't interested in being downstairs where everyone else was, so you went up to your room? Think about what you were doing. Were you sitting there with arms crossed and a sour face grumbling about the goings-on downstairs? Of course not! You were reading your books, playing with your toys - living your life, basically, rather than doing stuff you didn't want to. It was the childhood equivalent of whatever you're doing at home today on this rainy Sunday.)

I've been reading Miss Conduct's book (which is very interesting - a lot of examination of people's motivations, which I find useful), and one thing she mentions several times is "People aren't [X] at you!" The guest at your dinner party who doesn't eat shrimp isn't not eating shrimp at you, he's just not eating shrimp - just like that other guy who doesn't have a shrimp on his plate at the moment. The girl in the bar who looks hot isn't looking hot at you, just like how you aren't being tall at her.

Similarly, a kid who's feeling a negative emotion isn't sulking at you. They're just feeling a negative emotion. The real issue is the parent would like the kid to hide the negative emotion and pretend to enjoy the situation, and the kid isn't doing that.

So at this point we have to ask ourselves: why do people hide negative emotions? Think about your own life. You hide negative emotions when you have something to gain by doing so. What do kids have to gain by hiding negative emotions?

Let me remind you of another phrase you probably heard in your childhood: "See? That wasn't so bad!" When you're a kid, if you get through a situation you dislike without expressing a huge amount of negative emotion, you parents get all smug and told-you-so about it. Then next time you don't want to do something, they completely dismiss your feelings "Oh, don't be silly, you'll like it." Or, if it's the same thing, "What's the matter? You LIKE X!" And not only do they dismiss your feelings to your face, they also convince themselves that you actually did like the thing, to the point that they truly believe that your word on what you do and do not enjoy cannot be taken at face value.

Therefore, there's absolutely no motivation for a kid to hide their feelings. If they do, their feelings won't be taken seriously next time and the parents will truly think that the kid likes the things they say they didn't like. Their only possibility for being taken seriously is to express their feelings as vociferously as possible. (And even that often doesn't work because parents think they have to instill that kids won't get their way by "whining".)

So what is needed is a way for kids to express to their parents (before the fact, after the fact, or both) that they don't really enjoy something but were just trying to make the best of the situation to be polite. The parent would need to communicate this to them explicitly, as well as talking to them about why and under what circumstances and to what end people might hide their negative emotions. And then - this is the important part - the parents need to praise them for being good, and believe and remember that the kid actually dislikes the thing in question. If the kid doesn't like going to church but was good and sat quietly through the whole mass last week and then does the same this week, the parent needs to be thinking "They were so good and polite and helpful to sit quietly through mass!" It is absolutely imperative that the parent not start thinking "Oh, I see little Johnny likes church now. I knew he'd come around!"

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Slice of life

Summer, 10 years ago. My bedroom was right under the roof. My fast food shift started early in the morning and ended early in the afternoon. I'd come home, tired from being on my feet all day, smelling of grease, just in time for the afternoon thunderstorm. (Convective weather was like clockwork that year.) I'd change out of my smelly clothes, lie down on top of my comforter and wrap it around me like a cocoon, and let the sound of the rain beating down on the roof lull me to sleep. Somehow, these conditions made for the most interesting dreams.

I work a regular schedule now, at a computer, in an office, sitting down. I make more in a day now than I did in a week then, and my life is way easier and less stressful. I wouldn't go back then for anything. But, on rainy days like today, I miss my afternoon naps.


A few days ago, Salon printed this story where a guy feels so emasculated by having lost his job that he feels the need to engage in a truly pathetic ritual of irritating the people near him in the grocery line. This is one of those pieces that makes me look stupid because I can't tell if it's serious or satire.

In any case, ever since I read it, I've felt the need to be outright solicitous to the people around me in grocery lines. I get the bar for the person in front of me AND the person behind me, big smile, "Here, let me get that for you." I'm all kinds of sorries and excuse-mes when squeezing past people in the aisles, I'm all "thanks so much" at every little interaction with the cashier. All of which you don't care about, and I wouldn't be posting if that was the whole story.

What makes this interesting is I'm not the only person doing this! I've had two grocery runs since I read that story, and I've encountered three other people also doing the same!

I wonder if that was the author's original intention? I wonder if maybe he ran into an asshat at the grocery store, so decided to instigate a mass effort of grocery-story counter-asshattery?

Mystery of the moment

I know some people who don't live in Toronto but have opinions about Toronto municipal politics. Their opinions are most often not compatible with what I need and want my city to be.

These people, as individuals, claim to care about me, as an individual. In most, if not all, cases, I'm the individual in Toronto that they care most about.

However, instead of accepting that I will take my political action in the way that is most compatible with what I need and want my city to be, they try to change my mind and get me to take the action they would take if they lived here (which they don't). Even though it affects me but not them.


How to get all law-abiding citizens to trust police with two simple rules

1. If you are found to be innocent of whatever police were trying to arrest/detain/search/question you for in the first place, you (and anyone acting on your behalf/in your defence) cannot be charged with assaulting a police officer, obstructing justice, resisting arrest, and all those other laws that exist to enable police to catch bad guys.

As I blogged about before, a main reason for being afraid of the police is that even if their original reasoning or methods are bullshit and you're just trying to protect yourself, they can still rightfully arrest you for assaulting an officer or resisting arrest. If a bunch of plainclothes police try to throw you into a van and you try to fight back because, hey, strange men throwing you into a van, they can still charge you with resisting arrest, obstructing justice, assaulting an officer, mischief - even if it was a case of mistaken identity and you aren't actually the person they wanted to arrest.

So they should change this rule. If law-abiding citizens truly had nothing to fear, we'd be much more trusting of and willing to cooperate with police.

2. If the conditions of your detention do not meet Geneva Convention standards, you get financial compensation. Always. Period. Even if you're guilty.

As I mentioned in #10 of my braindump, what makes me more afraid of the police than of the black bloc is the detention conditions. If the worst a law-abiding citizen had to fear from police is having to sit around for a while, with access to sufficient drinking water and adequate toilet conditions, while the red tape is untangled, we'd have no reason to fear them. But once they start denying us drinking water and threatening us with rape, they become the biggest threat to us - and the reason why I now wouldn't even consider calling the police unless the threat I faced was even greater than several days of insufficient drinking water and rape threats. If they could get back to a place where I can be confident that the inconvenience I'd suffer if wrongfully arrested is no worse than waiting in line at some government office, I could trust them again.

Variations I'm toying with:

a) Financial compensation for inhumane detention conditions is somehow deducted from police salary increases. Not sure if this is logistically possible, not really comfortable with establishing the precedent of cutting workers' pay punitively (what if it was just the police chief's pay?), pretty sure pay negotiations would just take this into account and demand higher increases to adapt.

b) If you're found to be innocent and are detained under inhumane conditions, not only do you get financial compensation, but you get a get out of jail free card (or maybe several, depending on the length and severity of your detention). So next time you're guilty of something, they have to throw out the charges, or next time you find yourself kettled or otherwise detained by police, they have to let you go. Even if you're guilty that time.

Why you should be worried about our police even if you feel safe around police

Arising from this.

It seems the best strategy the police can think of when faced with a large peaceful crowd with a minority of criminal element hiding inside is to arrest everyone.

Apart from the fact that the world can be defined as a large peaceful crowd with a minority of criminal element hiding inside, we should be worried because arresting everyone appears to be the best strategy they can think of.

That's not a very good strategy, is it? Any of us could have thought of that!

Think about your own profession or vocation or calling. You sometimes face challenges that look impossible to outsiders, right? And, using your training and experience and expertise and talents, you can find solutions to these challenges that outsiders would never have thought of, with a better outcome than they could have ever achieved themselves, right?

If part of your hair gets cut off by accident and you look like an idiot, you'd expect a professional hairdresser to be able to work around it to give you a flattering cut that looks like it's on purpose. It would be unacceptable for them to shave your head. If you stain a difficult-to-clean piece of clothing and take it to a professional drycleaner, you'd expect them to come up with some way to remove the stain without wrecking the clothes. It would be unacceptable for them to throw it in the washing machine with Tide and bleach and hot water.

It would be unacceptable for your translator to run the text through Babelfish. It would be unacceptable for your dentist to tie one end of a string to your sore tooth and the other end to a doorknob. It would be unacceptable for the Morgentaler clinic to come at you with a wire coathanger. It would be unacceptable for a hired hitman to just bomb the whole city where the target lives. If any of these things happened, you'd assume they're incompetent.

The reason we have professionals in the first place is that they can do things way better than we ever could ourselves - more accurately and precisely and effectively, with better results and less damage.

It appears the police couldn't come up with a better strategy for finding a small criminal element hidden in a large peaceful crowd than to arrest the entire crowd. Which any schoolchild could have thought of. If you trust and/or depend on the police to keep you safe, you should be worried about this.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wil Wheaton is awesome!

This story isn't new, but I just heard it yesterday.

Wil Wheaton personally replied to an 8-year-old's lost fan club application - 21 years after the fact.

Wil was my very first celebrity crush, back before it ever occurred to me that I might enjoy kissing someone someday, possibly before any real-life crush. It seems my excellent taste in celebrity crushes started early.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A solution to busybodies

There are certain parties who like to ask very personal questions and, when you protest, say "But I was just making conversation!"

A possible solution: change the subject to something completely else that's perfectly valid for just making conversation. "So did you see any of the Perseid meteor shower?" "Would you recommend Inception or Scott Pilgrim?" "Is it just me, or are blueberries more expensive this year?" After all, that's conversation!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Things They Should Study: economic return on refugees

My grandparents came here on a boat 50 years ago with their gaggle of children. They did manage to find jobs and be self-supporting, but if they had been economically dependent the entire time they were in Canada, plus their children had been economically dependent until adulthood, there would have been about 150 total person-years economically dependent on the state.

My grandparents' direct descendants have, so far, put in nearly 200 total person-years of full-time gainful employment, plus an additional 60 total person-years of part-time work like you have as a student.

The majority of their grandchildren are still in school. I'm the oldest and I'm not yet 30. The youngest is still in high school. Parity between my grandparents' hypothetical person-years of dependence and their descendants' person-years of productive employment may well have been reached before I even finished university. Barring mass unemployment, we're going to reach 300 person-years of productive employment within the next decades.

Wouldn't it be interesting to do research and see to what extent this pattern holds throughout the general population?

Edited to add: It has also been pointed out to me that some of my grandparents' descendants have run businesses and therefore created jobs, and some have been responsible for teaching or training future members of their own fields. (To say nothing of the fact that some have saved lives.) So our ROI is greater than just the taxes and consumer spending produced by our salaries.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to get Canadians to embrace a 1950s vision of Canada

Lawrence Martin suggests that the current government aspires to a 1950s vision of Canada (h/t Sister Sage).

I've been thinking about the 1950s a lot lately, because the 1950s were when my grandparents were about my age. As I get older, I find myself reaching the age that my parents and grandparents were when they made major decisions that ultimately affected me, so I find myself trying to picture what I'd be thinking in their shoes during that era.

During the 1950s, all of my grandparents found themselves with large numbers of children to raise, so they all got jobs. The jobs weren't anything fancy, didn't require any post-secondary, nothing a child would want to be when they grow up, just good honest hard work.

They then proceeded to keep these jobs, go into work every day and do the good honest hard work, until eventually they retired. They all got pensions from these jobs too, except for my one grandmother whose employer offered them a pension, but the workers took a vote and decided "No, thank you, most of us are married and our spouses have pensions. What in the world would we need with two pensions?"

Let me repeat that: the economic environment was such that simply by working hard, they were able to keep the same job for decades, buy houses, and raise gaggles of children who ended up going to university. And they all got pensions, except for one workplace where the employer offered a pension and the workers declined because most of them already had another pension!

If someone wanted to convince me that a 1950s worldview is beneficial, creating similar economic conditions would certainly be a good start!

Why is this product gendered?

I wanted a scrub to help get rid of the gross rough skin on my heels, so I ended up choosing Dr. Scholl's Pumice Scrub.

I didn't do any research or anything, just looked around the drugstore. I chose this particular product because: a) it's in the foot care section with the athlete's foot cream and the wart remover rather than in the beauty products section with the Oil of Olay, and b) it contains pumice, which is what pumice stones are made of, and pumice stones are used for removing rough skin by brute force. Therefore, I concluded, this was serious foot scrub for serious rough skin!

But today I noticed the packaging and branding are gender specific. This is women's foot scrub. Of course, that got me wondering what men's foot scrub would be like, so I went back to the foot care section of the drugstore. But there was no men's foot scrub. There was no gender-neutral foot scrub. There was just women's.

I wonder what's behind that decision? The vast majority of men wouldn't even consider buying a women's product. They'd see "For Her" as "not for me". However, both men and women would buy a gender-neutral product. I know that in general more women than men are concerned about the smoothness of their feet, but there must be some men who want to get rid of their gross foot skin. I wonder why they chose to exclude that potential market?

Also, women who want a dainty feminine foot product aren't going to buy this one, they're going to buy something by Oil of Olay or Nivea over in the beauty product section. The audience for this product has already left the beauty section and deliberately made their way over to the foot product section. They already consider their feet A Problem and are looking next to the products that their father used on his disgusting foot fungus. Using the regular blue and yellow Dr. Scholl's brand rather than the purple flowered For Her sub-brand isn't going to put them off at this point.

I know marketing people do think about these things. You don't just not notice that you've excluded half your prospective audience. I'd love to know what they were thinking here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why Rob Ford's target demographic will go extinct, and why this is sad

I've been wondering for some time why people choose to live in Toronto when they clearly don't want to live in a major city (e.g. they prioritize driving over public transit, they want big yards and driveways and oppose density and intensification, etc.) I've also been wondering why Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford wants to be mayor of Toronto when he clearly doesn't want Toronto to be Toronto.

This article explains it. The people who live in 416 and but don't want to live in Toronto moved to 416 when their part of the city wasn't part of Toronto. They didn't choose to live in Toronto, they didn't want to live in Toronto. They wanted to live in a non-Toronto location that was nevertheless near Toronto. (We'll call this "para-Toronto"). So they looked at a map and chose Etobicoke, or North York, or East York, or Scarborough. One of the places that was outside, but near to, the area marked as "Toronto". Then amalgamation happened in 1998, and they found themselves part of Toronto. They didn't want this. In fact, they took specific measures to avoid it by moving somewhere that was outside of Toronto. They don't want to be part of Toronto, so they support the candidate who doesn't want Toronto to be Toronto.

The thing is, people who moved here after amalgamation (i.e. in the last 12 years) and want to live in para-Toronto aren't going to chose the inner suburbs. They're going to look at the map, see all of 416 labeled as "Toronto", think "Well, I want to live slightly outside of Toronto," and choose Mississauga or Brampton or Richmond Hill. So while before amalgamation the inner suburbs were populated with people who aspire to para-Toronto, since 1998 the vast vast majority of new residents have been people who aspire to a major city, simply because if they didn't aspire to a major city, they would have moved somewhere that isn't marked "Toronto" on the map.

The other issue is that newcomers who end up in the inner suburbs are less likely to have the inner suburbs be their first choice. After all, they've chosen the area marked on the map as "Toronto", so they most likely aspire to the lifestyle of a major city. They want easy access to public transit and all the conveniences of density, so they're more likely to want to live in higher-density areas of the city, closer to major transit routes. The inner suburbs are most likely an economic compromise. Therefore, new residents of the inner suburbs are more likely to embrace changes that make the inner suburbs more urban, while the old guard is likely to remain opposed to such things.

These unwilling Torontonians also complain that downtown gets a lot more resources and attention. If this is true (I don't have enough knowledge of the situation to know if it's truth or perception - there's a lot of data in the article but it's incomplete), it's possible that new residents wouldn't mind this, because they're more oriented towards downtown. I know when something awesome happens downtown, I myself think "YAY, something awesome in my city!" So the inner suburb old guard's voices are going to keep getting diluted until they all move away and die out. They're going extinct, all because their territory was relabeled on the map.

And what sucks for the inner suburban old guard is they, and all the other citizens involved, have all made perfectly reasonable life decisions. It was perfectly reasonable for people seeking a para-Toronto lifestyle before 1998 to choose Etobicoke. It's perfectly reasonable for people seeking a para-Toronto lifestyle now to not think of Etobicoke and choose Mississauga. It's perfectly reasonable for people who want to live in a major city to choose Toronto. It's perfectly reasonable for people who have chosen their place of residence for its urbanism to support further urbanization, and it's perfectly reasonable for people who have chosen their place of resident specifically for its non-urbanism to oppose further urbanization.

I'm everything the inner suburban old guard loathes. I'm a staunch urbanite who loves the high-density carfree lifestyle so much she's willing to pay for the privilege. However, even though they don't like the quality of life to which I aspire, they must agree that I am carrying it out sensibly. I like urban life, so I move smack dab in the middle of Canada's largest city. Perfectly sensible. I like urban life, so I vote for things that will make my corner of the world even more urban. Perfectly sensible.

It's just unfortunate that a stroke of a pen over a decade ago by politicos that none of us even voted for are dragging them along for the ride against their will.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Things They Should Invent: ways for civilians to de-escalate interactions with police officers

Before the G20 happened, I was thinking of ways that people demonstrators could de-escalate an attempted provocation of the crowd, whether by agents provocateurs or just regular people who get swept up in the energy of the crowd.

What surprised me most during the actual G20 is to what extent uniformed police officers acting in an official capacity were the ones escalating the situation! Kettling, banging batons on shields, charging people with lines of riot police and sometimes even horses, mass arrests regardless of why a person was in the area...

So it got me thinking that we, as civilians, need a way to de-escalate police officers. People can generally de-escalate in any other area in life as part of basic social skills, but somehow the uniform makes it more difficult. We need to work on this.

I've been thinking and thinking and thinking, and haven't come up with any solutions. However, I do have a few ideas that I think point us in the right direction, each coming from one of my few outright positive interactions with police officers. So I'm blogging what I've got, and hopefully someone can do something with it.


Shortly after I first moved to Toronto, nearly a decade ago, I made my first solo foray downtown. I emerged from the subway, and there were police horses! Right there! I stopped in my tracks (being enough of a n00b that I didn't think of the people walking behind me) and totally squeed. "OMG, horsies!" Hand-clapping and jumping up and down may have been involved.

The police officers were clearly amused by my reaction, and one of them waved me over. "You can pet him if you want," he told me. So I tentatively put my hand right were the officer pointed (the horse was so big I had to reach up to pet him!) and gave the horse a couple of those too-gentle pats people give animals they aren't used to being around. He was warm and kind of muscly, and his hair felt more like human hair than I'd expected. Then the horse did a kind of horsey-snorty-head-shakey thing, I pulled my hand back, startled, and the police officer reassured me that it was okay.

In the aftermath of Queen's Park I found myself wondering if this memory was actually true. They'd been charging horses at people! How could I possibly have been allowed (even encouraged!) to pet a police horse? I googled around the idea some, and it turns out it's not uncommon. The police seem to see the horses as making them approachable to the public, and let people ask about them and interact with them as a public relations tool. It's intended to humanize the police to the public.

But I think that particular encounter I had might also have humanized me to those police officers. I wasn't a complete unknown, I wasn't just some no-good teenager. I was a person who liked and respected horses, just like them. I was innocent/sheltered/naive enough to be surprised and excited by the sight of a horse, in awe at the prospect of petting one, and slightly startled by a horse's snort. I'd been deferential when speaking to police officers and exceedingly gentle when touching a police horse. If something had gone down right that minute, those police officers would likely have seen me as an innocent to be protected, whereas if I hadn't had that horsey interaction they'd have been more likely to see me as just another of Kids Today.

And that's part of what we need to de-escalate police officers: we need to figure out how to humanize ourselves in their eyes. I don't know how to do this. I don't think a squee at the police horses would have been enough to stop them from charging at Queen's Park, although I do think I will be expressing any squee I happen to feel at any police animals in the future (if I am capable of still seeing them as animals rather than weapons, which I sincerely hope I am), just as a precautionary measure.

There's also the problem that we can't all take exactly the same measures to humanize ourselves to the police. First, if we all engage in the same action, it will give an inherently dehumanizing impression (just like how police in formation look like automatons, even if they look like just regular guys when they're just standing around on the street). Second, if it becomes formulaic, it will make us look like smarmy gits who are just trying to give the impression of looking like decent human beings, like when they tell you in customer service to use the customer's name. If someone greeted every police officer with a fake-cheerful "Good morning, Officer [check name tag] Lastname," they'd probably start wondering what that person's up to.

So I think what we need to figure out is which regular actions that people might normally engage in anyway humanize us to police officers and which ones dehumanize us, so we can humanize ourselves through actions that are within the range of normal for us.


They were either putting up or taking down a construction crane in my neighbourhood, which meant a lot of traffic had to be redirected to the side streets. People were frustrated, cars were honking, night was falling, and there was a police officer on hand trying to keep order. I was on my way home, and stopped at the corner where he was standing to patiently wait for an opening to cross the street. He seemed a bit stressed and started complaining to me, bemoaning the ridiculousness of the traffic and impatience of the drivers. Then he stopped traffic so I could cross. Just so I could cross. There were no other pedestrians crossing my way at that time.

So why did he do this? I've been thinking about it, and I think it's that, at that particular moment, I wasn't the Other. The Other, from that police officer's perspective, was the cars. I was clearly not a car, so I was Non-Other. He was stressed and a bit pissed off, but it was the cars who were stressing him and pissing him off. I was clearly not a car, so I was clearly an innocent bystander.

This ties in with one of the more bizarre police statements in the wake of Queen & Spadina, saying that they kettled everyone because the people hadn't dissociated themselves from the black bloc. Which, of course, made everyone wonder "Isn't it obvious that we don't support them? How TF do we dissociate ourselves from the black bloc to their satisfaction? Who else are we supposed to be dissociating ourselves from that we don't know about?"

I think the police are expecting some specific behaviour from people who aren't part of the Other, to, in their own words, dissociate from the Other. But it is not at all obvious to us as civilians what this behaviour is. It was just blatently obvious that one day that I was Non-Other because I wasn't in a car.

Of course, the thing we have to be careful of in dissociating ourselves from the Other is to watch who we deem the Other. We don't want to declare other, perfectly law-abiding citizens Other just to protect ourselves.


I was waiting in line at a store to pay for my purchases, but there was no one at the cash register. I and the lady in front of me waited around for a bit, craning our necks trying to see an employee, looking around for a little ding-y bell, speculating on where everyone is, until finally I joked "We should just shoplift these things. That will get someone paying attention to us." The lady in front of me laughed, and showed me her dry-cleaning bags. They were full of police uniforms. I was shocked:

Me: "You have to get those dry-cleaned? That sucks!"
Her: "We do get an allowance for it."
Me: "That's good! My jobs where I've had a uniform didn't do anything for us, so I'm glad to see at least some employers are sensible."
Her: "Plus it saves me going all the way down the basement to do laundry!"
Me: "Oh, I hear you on that! I've finally got in-suite laundry, although the rent is atrocious."

By the time the cashier materialized, we were comparing rents and amenities of various neighbourhood buildings and pondering the ethics of renting condos rather than apartments.

The reason that turned out to be a friendly conversation rather than an arrest for conspiracy to shoplift is that we had solidarity. We were both customers trying to get service. We were both workers wanting a fair deal from the employer. We were both busy professionals trying to fit in all our errands and chores. We were both local residents wanting good housing at a good price. We were entirely on the same team.

And that's another part what we need to be able to achieve to de-escalate police officers: solidarity. There was a youtube video floating around that did that, using editing and music to depict Queen & Spadina as a tragedy for all involved, with civilian and police alike having to stand in the rain for hours. We need to figure out how to duplicate that emotion on the ground, perhaps while being kettled and charged at.

One thing I noticed about the vibe of the G20 (singing O Canada at Queen & Spadina, "You're sexy, you're cute, take off that riot suit") is that the solidarity created often excluded the police officers. It was solidarity from them, not with them. I'm not saying this in a blamey way - I certainly don't know how to create solidarity with someone who's kettling me, charging at me, banging their baton on their shield! - but we do need to figure out how to stop that from happening, and instead create a shared solidarity like at Pride, where the cops all end up wearing rainbow beads.

And actually, all of these things come down to solidarity. The mounted police officers and my teenage self shared pro-horse solidarity. Even if they weren't squeeing about it, I'm certain they thought the horses were as awesome as I did. The traffic-directing officer and I were sharing non-car solidarity. The off-duty officer and I were fellow shoppers, neighbours and contemporaries, both just trying to get through the minutiae of everyday life.

I really don't know how to do this. It seems especially hard when the police are deliberately trying to destroy any solidarity and escalate the situation. The girl in the Officer Bubbles video seemed to be creating solidarity with the female police officer, but then Officer Bubbles came charging in and destroyed it in one fell swoop. But I really hope someone who knows stuff can figure out how to do it.

While googling around the idea of "how do I de-escalate a police officer?" I found a lot of information intended for police officers on how they can de-escalate civilians. They've done all kinds of psychology and figured out the motivation and the buttons to push in all kinds of situations. So maybe someone who knows stuff about psychology and police training can figure out how civilians can do the same to police so we can protect ourselves?

Maybe I should be finding books about police psychology, so at least I know what they think I'm thinking?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Wherein I accidentally figure out why I'm a pessimist

Reading this unrelated article, the following passage caught my eye.

One reason that paying for experiences gives us longer-lasting happiness is that we can reminisce about them, researchers say. That’s true for even the most middling of experiences. That trip to Rome during which you waited in endless lines, broke your camera and argued with your spouse will typically be airbrushed with “rosy recollection,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Lyubomirsky has a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct research on the possibility of permanently increasing happiness. “Trips aren’t all perfect,” she notes, “but we remember them as perfect.”

My first thought was "Oh, so THAT's why people like travelling." Because my brain works the opposite way. I remember every single annoyance. The largest-looming memories of my childhood summers are fighting off carsickness and my sister, yearning for a moment alone in a quiet air-conditioned room with a book. This is why to this day I hate travelling and there are few things I'd rather do on a summer weekend then have some quality time alone with a book.

Then I realized that's it's more than just memories of travelling. In all my memories, the negative emotions stay on as strong as ever, but the positive emotions fade.

I can best explain this with a recent memory. When we saw Eddie the first time, I came home with three concurrent emotions: giddy endorphin rush, the "OMG, he's real!" feeling I got when he first walked on stage, and wanting to kick myself for making such an ass of myself at stage door.

The endorphin rush faded like endorphins do, and never came back as part of the memories. I remember the fact that it happened, of course. I remember what it felt like. But when I go into the memory, the endorphin rush isn't there. Even the next day telling people about it, I didn't feel even a fraction of the endorphin rush when I summoned up the memory.

The "OMG, he's real" feeling was present in the memories at first. It would totally reach into my belly with it's claws and grab my guts and twist them (in an entirely good way). Now, three months later, it's faded to a quiet little smile. I remember having that feeling, I remember what it felt like, but it's no longer an inherent part of the memory. Three months from now, I probably won't even be able to summon it up. (Which is unfortunate - it was an entirely new feeling and I rather like it).

But the feeling of wanting to kick myself for making an ass of myself hasn't gone away or even weakened. Even now when I think of it, I still wince physically and viscerally, and would slap my own face if I wasn't too chickenshit. I've already convinced myself quite logically that my idiocy was inconsequential (with a tremendous assist from someone on a fan site who proudly described doing something far stupider than I'd ever dream of), but the negative emotion is there just as strong as ever.

And I think all my memories work this way. I remember the fact that I felt gleefully independent when I started living alone, but I feel the constant lurking fear of the things that would crawl out of walls in my crappy student housing. I remember that my sister got married last year, but I feel the anger and frustration and humiliation and helplessness of my uncle (bizarrely) giving me a hard time for not being married myself in the one moment where I couldn't escape because the ceremony was right about to start any minute. I remember that I played that one playground game many many times and enjoyed it, but I feel the helpless terror of the one time I got injured and had to go to the ER and didn't understand what was going on, to the extent that I'm flashing back just typing this non-descriptive sentence. Positive emotions fade until I can just remember the fact that I felt the positive emotions, negative emotions stay on as an inherent part of the memory that comes back every time I remember it.

So if most people's brains are wired the opposite, so bad emotions fade and good emotions stay as described in the quote above, that would explain why so many people are so bizarrely optimistic. And, accordingly, why I am so inherently pessimistic.

The next mystery: why does my brain do this differently?

The other reason why I feel the police are currently the biggest threat to me

I blogged before about how, in the wake of the G20, I feel the police are currently the biggest threat to me. There's one more important factor that I wasn't able to articulate then.

The scariest thing about the police's G20 actions is how they targeted everyone who happened to be in a given area a the time (Queen & Spadina, Queen's Park, Esplanade).

Civilian criminals don't do this. Civilian criminal acts are target-specific or goal-specific. They're going to attack that one guy who dissed them, or they're going to attack the next likely target who walks by. They aren't out to attack absolutely everyone in the general area.

I can best explain this with an example of a real-life bad guy. This past spring, there was a guy on the subway sexually assaulting people who look like me. (They've since arrested someone, but for the purpose of this example, let's go back in time to when he was still at large.)

Suppose I'm on the same subway car as this guy. What might happen? Maybe he'll attack no one, maybe he'll attack another long-haired brunette, or maybe he'll attack me. If he attacks no one, we're all fine. If he attacks another long-haired brunette, I can, if I choose, take that opportunity to escape. (It's dishonourable and chickenshit, yes, and I'd like to think I wouldn't take that option, but my point is the option is there.) If he attacks me I can fight back, and other people might also intervene, which would make them heroes. The perp cannot stop me from escaping when I get an opportunity, and he cannot attack everyone on the subway car at once. A maximum of one person is at risk.

Now suppose the police decide there's a stealth black bloc person on the same subway car as me. Either they'll act or they won't. If they don't act, we're all fine. If they act, they're going to detain all of us. The fact that I'm not the person they're looking for won't protect me. The fact that there are other, more likely suspects won't protect me. If I attempt to escape, they have grounds to detain me legitimately (evading police). If I attempt to fight back, they have grounds to detain me legitimately (assaulting an officer). If someone else attempts to intervene, they have grounds to detain them legitimately (obstruction of justice). Everyone on that subway car is at risk.

In summary, here are the facts I have. Civilians sometimes do bad things. Police sometimes do bad things. (The value of "sometimes" cannot be quantified in either case.) When civilians do bad things, they are targeting less than 100% of the people in the area, and generally can't get everyone at once. When police do bad things, they're targeting 100% of the people in the area, and can get everyone at once. If you attempt to escape from the area while the police are doing bad things, you are breaking the law and they have legal cause to arrest you. If you attempt to escape from the area while civilians are doing bad things, your actions are perfectly lawful.

This is why my shields now go up when I find myself in the same general area as police officers.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

How to fake plain language in French to English translations

1. Every time you see the word "of", try to rephrase the sentence to eliminate it.
2. Every time you see a word ending in "-ion", try changing the ending to "-ing" and rephrasing the sentence accordingly.
3. Every time you see "regarding" or some synonym thereof (concerning, in regard to, in terms of, etc.), try to replace it with a more specific preposition (about, on, in, for, with, to, etc. Whatever describes the actual real-life relationship between the elements.) Helpful hint: if the first word in any sentence is "regarding" or one of its synonyms, this is a sign that the sentence is not phrased as clearly as it could be.
4. After you've done these first three steps, do a word count. If your English word count is over 80% of your French word count, go through again and look for places where you can reduce your word count.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

What is the political motivation behind putting more people in jail?

First, there was the Miami Model at the G20.

Then there's Stockwell Day wanting to build more prisons even though crime is going down.

Both of these seem politically motivated. But what's the motivation?

Arresting/imprisoning more people systematically increases the chances of arresting/imprisoning more innocent people, which is detrimental to the establishment's credibility. It also damages the general public's trust in authority figures, which doesn't seem like something governments would want to do. (Since the G20, if I see a cop car while innocently walking down my own street on the way to my good sensible job, my shields go up and I'm automatically looking for escape routes. How is this more beneficial than my previous reaction of not caring one way or the other?) I'd also imagine that governments and authority figures would want people to report any crimes they might encounter (it certainly seems Stockwell Day does), but not being able to trust the police makes this less likely. (In the aftermath of the G20, there were people who kept saying that if you don't like the police, you shouldn't go calling them next time you have an emergency. The truth of the matter is now I wouldn't even consider calling them unless the threat I faced was worse than being detained for 36 hours with insufficient water, no toilet paper, and people trying to stick their fingers into you.)

They must think they're achieving something by arresting/imprisoning more people. What do they think they're achieving?

This also got me thinking about the impact on workers and the economy. More prisons probably means more jobs as prison guards, which sounds good at first glance but seems like the sort of thing that would be rather soul-destroying as a job. But then I got to thinking that the very thing that makes it soul-destroying might make it not as good for the economy as other types of jobs. I don't know enough economics to say this for certain, but here's my thinking:

Most jobs create something and/or facilitate the movement of money (which, as I understand it, is what constitutes economic activity). In my job, I create English documents. When I'm done my work, there are English documents where there were no English documents before. The salespeople at the store don't create much, but they do get money from my wallet into the store's coffers, to then be used to pay suppliers and employees and ultimately make the economy flow.

But a prison guard doesn't create anything and doesn't help money move. They just guard the prisoners. So suppose they repurposed a bunch of laid-off auto workers as prison guards. Now, instead of creating something (making cars where there were no cars before) that will become a part of the economy (being sold, requiring gas and insurance and parking, etc.), they're doing something economically dead-end.) Would that be detrimental to the economy as a whole?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sterilization technology update

I just found out today that there's another sterilization procedure that's like Essure, except the fallopian tube inserts are silicone rather than metal. It's called Adiana. It seems it hasn't been approved in Canada yet, but is going through the process.

I am not a medical professional and I am not in a position to vouch for or endorse this or any other medical procedure. I (unfortunately) have no firsthand experience with any sterilization procedures. I'm just posting this because it seems like it might be promising for people who are in the market for Essure but can't tolerate the metal inserts.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What I learned from the Industry Committee's census hearings

Last week's Industry Committee meeting on the census was incredibly interesting, and I'm trying very hard to be patient with the fact that the transcript isn't up yet. (Because yes, I know that on top of everything else, every single word uttered needs to be translated and I know it really really really needs to be done right because a) it's Parliament and b) this issue gets media attention. But I want to blog about it, dammit!)

The transcript will be up here when it's ready. The CBC's liveblog is also useful.

Here are the key things I learned from the evidence given at this committee:

1. The government, being the government, can change the legal penalties for failing to fill out the census form. If they believe the penalties are too harsh, they can go right ahead and legislate milder penalties, or no penalties. Because that's what the government does - makes and modifies laws.

2. The government gets to approve the census questions. If they find any questions too intrusive, they can just...not approve those questions, and they won't go in the census.

3. The Privacy Commissioner has gotten 50 complaints over the census in 20 years.

4. No one has ever gone to jail for failing to fill out the census.

5. The question about the number of rooms is used to, among other things, identify what is called "hidden homelessness". In some remote Arctic communities, the ratio of rooms to people reveals that there isn't enough housing, even though no one is sleeping on the street or anything.

This is way more interesting than I thought it would be, and very informative. I look forward to them posting the transcript soon so I can make a proper post.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Why does property tax exist?

The municipal tax base is based on property taxes rather than income taxes or sales taxes. They assess the market value of your property and charge you a percentage of that assessed value in tax.

Why does this exist? How is it fair? How is it superior to income tax?

The amount of property tax we pay may be fair at the time we buy our homes, although that assumes that we're leveraging more or less fully. For example, suppose you buy a home for the largest value they'll give you a mortgage for with the minimum down payment they'll accept. Not the most optimal way to do it, but houses are expensive, you know, sometimes we don't have a choice. At the same time, some billionaire buys the house next door, which is assessed at exactly the same value. This billionaire is so rich they can buy the house outright, in cash. They could afford way more house, but they simply don't need it - it's a perfectly decent house, after all. So you're mortgaged to the hilt, but they've paid out pocket change and own it outright. They make as much in a day as you do in a year. But you both pay exactly the same number of dollars in property tax. Is that fair? Is that optimal?

Now suppose a couple of years pass. Due to some external influence, the assessed value of your home (and your neighbour's home) has skyrocketed, and your property taxes have therefore skyrocketed as well. But you've lost your job and run out your EI benefits, so you have literally no income (and not a whole lot of savings, because two years ago you were fully leveraged.) Meanwhile, your neighbour's stock options have also skyrocketed, so they're now earning even more money. You don't earn enough in a year to pay your property taxes, but they earn enough to pay their property taxes in 30 seconds. And yet you still owe the same number of dollars. How is that helpful?

Think of the elders in your life. Think of someone who is retired and has been living in the same home for decades, perhaps the home where they raised their children. Now run their income through a mortgage calculator. Do they make enough money to buy their house at its current assessed value? Probably not. House values tend to rise over time, which can really add up over decades. How is it useful to make them pay the same number of dollars in tax as someone who just moved in and does have an income proportionate to the assessed value of the house?

At this point, people usually say that you can borrow against the value of your home. But that's unsustainable. If I don't have $5,000 to pay my property taxes this year and I borrow it out of my mortgage, then I owe an extra $5,000 into my mortgage (which is accruing interest and increasing my required mortgage payments), plus I'll have to come up with another $5,000 (or probably more) next year. Unless my income is increasing significantly, I'll never catch up and eventually lose my home.

So who decided this is a good idea? Why does it exist? What benefits does it have over an income tax? Wouldn't it be better to just have a municipal income tax to make sure taxes owed doesn't exceed your income or threaten your housing security?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Where have all the poor people gone?

I'm reading an article on how census data is used for marketing, and it includes examples of the different demographic categories (PDF) marketers organize us into by neighbourhood.

I don't know if it's just me, but I find the average incomes of those demographic groups really high, especially given the qualitative descriptions assigned to them.

The lowest income group averages $40,000, but there are all kinds of people in the real life who earn way less than that, and incomes in the $50,000 range are described as "downscale" and "low income".

You can look up your own postal code by going here and clicking on "Lifestyle Lookup". When I looked up my postal code, I saw an average income higher than I will ever earn (in constant dollars) described as "middle" income. But I'm living quite comfortably here on noticeably less than that amount - I painlessly did my year of Shut Up and Buy It with a salary of twenty grand less than that amount. I ran the numbers for several other postal codes of people whose incomes I know, and there's a constant pattern of living comfortably on $20,000 less than the average for working people or half of the average for retired people, and everyone is far more comfortable than the qualitative label associated with their actual income bracket suggests. (i.e. based on how it feels in my bank account, $50,000 is more of a middle class lifestyle than low income.)

Are these categories off, or is my sense of how comfortable a given income level is off? How do people in these categories feel IRL? How do people in these categories perceive other categories?

And what of poor people, who make significantly less than the $40,052 average given for the lowest income category?