Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Things They Should Invent: sanitary recycle/reuse of partially-used toiletries

The clutter in my apartment includes half-full bottles of drugstore shampoo from before I went no cone, and sticks of deodorant that I've used only a few times before discovering that they don't work well with my fussy body chemistry.

In the aftermath of the Wellesley fire, the list of needed items included shampoo and deodorant.

Obviously, it would be a grave insult to give the Wellesley fire evacuees my half-empty, partially-used toiletries. That would be arrogant and demeaning and condescending and undignifying.

But the question remains: what can I do with them? I'm never going to use them myself because they make things worse, so basically they'll eventually end up in the garbage at some point. But, at the same time, there are plenty of people - some of whom might even be reading this - who could (objectively speaking and if you eliminated the "Eww, gross, used toiletries!" factor) make perfectly good use of half a bottle of herbal essences or a twice-used stick of deo. They only make things worse for me because of things that are particular to my body chemistry; they'd work perfectly well for plenty of other people.

So what they need to invent is a way to collect partially-used toiletries, sanitize them beyond reproach, and redistribute them (possibly repackaging them too) to people in need. It will unclutter our bathroom cupboards, help people in need, and help save the environment. Win-win-win!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Things They Should Study: what percentage of medical appointments are due to red tape?

Most of the medical appointments I've had in my adult life have been to renew my birth control prescription. Red tape requires that I see a doctor to keep taking the same medication I've always been taking.

My employer requires a doctor's note if you want to get your workstation ergonomized. My insurance requires a note from your primary care physician before it will cover the services of certain specialists.

After getting strep throat every year for most of my life, I can recognize it. However, I still have to go to the doctor to get a prescription for antibiotics.

Gardasil required four doctor's appointments: one to get the prescription, and three to have the doctor administer it.

Apart from a minimal amount of psychiatry, all the medical attention I've received in my adult life has been because of red tape. I didn't actually want or need to go to a doctor, I already knew what I needed, the doctor was just the gatekeeper.

In light of the idea that was recently floating around in Quebec to have patients pay a user fee every time they go to a doctor, I wonder what percentage of all medical appointments are like this? It really is not fair at all to make rules that the doctor has to be the gatekeeper even when you know what you need, and then charge people for going to the doctor.

Things They Should Invent: technology to mitigate cognitive decline

The following is a scene from Strangers In Death by J.D. Robb. Relevant to understanding this scene but not relevant to the blog post as a whole: the book is set in the year 2060, Mr. Anders is lying dead in his bed, and Eve is the detective investigating his murder. We join the scene already in progress.

Behind her, over a gas fireplace where flames simmered gold and red, the view screen popped on.

"Good morning, Mr. Anders!"

Narrow-eyed, Eve turned to stare at the screen. The computerized female voice struck her as annoyingly perky, and the sunrise colors bleeding onto the screen wouldn’t have been her choice of wake-up call.

"It’s now seven-fifteen on Tuesday, March eighteenth, twenty-sixty. You have a ten o’clock tee time at the club, with Edmond Luce."

As the computer chirpily reminded Anders what he’d ordered for breakfast, Eve thought: "No egg-white omelette for you this morning, Tom."

Across the room in an ornate sitting area, a miniAutoChef with bright brass fittings beeped twice.

"Your coffee’s ready! Enjoy your day!"

“Not so much,” Eve murmured.

The screen flipped to the morning’s headline news, anchored by a woman only slightly less perky than the computer. Eve tuned her out.

So, if Mr. Anders weren't dead, the computer would wake him up, tell him when and where he is and why it's waking him up, and provide him with breakfast. That would be so helpful to elders in the early stages of cognitive decline!

We already have some of that. I wake up to light, radio, and coffee. We have electronic calendars that will give us pop-up alerts a set time before an appointment. It just needs better coordination. When you enter an appointment into your schedule, that should alert your wakeup system that you need to be awoken, say, 2 hours before the appointment. If you're prescribed a new medication, not only does the pharmacist put it in your pill sorter thing, but you get an alert when it's time to take it (and additional alerts to get you to eat or not eat or whatever the medication requires). People who might not be remembering to eat proper could have a standing order from Grocery Gateway of ready-to-eat/microwavable foods that meet their tastes and nutritional needs. People who are inclined to wander could have the GPS on their phone lead them back to where they need to be.

The biggest concern about the aging population is the cost of caring for elders. One of the biggest reasons for putting elders in expensive, residential care is cognitive decline. If you ask any elder, they'll tell you that they want to stay in their own home as long as possible. This technology is within reach. Someone needs to make it happen.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A mission for Toronto language professional, language geeks, and second generation Canadians

One of the many things needed at the Wellesley community centre is interpreters. According to someone who was there on the ground, languages include Arabic, Punjabi, Urdu, Turkish, and Farsi.

I don't know in any official capacity and wasn't there on the ground (and if I'm misconstruing the situation, please do correct me in comments), but based on what I've heard of this situation I don't think an interpreter-quality skill set is necessary. An amateur translator, a second-generation Canadian who can talk to Gramma in the old country's language, or someone with the equivalent of two years' classroom instruction should be able to be of some help.

If this is in your skill set, please do consider popping in to see if you can be of any use. If this is in the skill set of someone you know, please pass on the tinformation.

My brilliant new filing system

For years, I've been trying to maintain a filing system where bills and receipts and important documents are sorted into different folders depending on their purpose. It's never worked, because I've always been like "OMG, it's too much work to find the right folder!" (#FirstWorldProblems) and just stuck the document in the front of the drawer to deal with later.

So here's my new system: one folder for each year. Every time I get a new piece of paper I need to keep, I put it in the front of the folder. That's all. So everything's in one folder, but it's basically in chronological order and shouldn't be too difficult to find if I ever need to find it (which I never actually have).

I currently have 7 years of stuff filed, so at the end of the year I just have to grab the oldest folder and shred everything in it, rather than going through every folder or letting stuff I don't need to keep languish and take up space.

I wish I'd thought of this earlier! I really need to learn to embrace my weaknesses more often.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Journalism wanted: contextualize the G20 expenses

Recently in the news: many many dollars were spent at the G20 for many random things.

All the news reports I've seen simply mention large numbers of dollars and the things they were spent on. But what does it actually mean?

For example, they say that $300,000 was spent on sunscreen and insect repellent. Notwithstanding my firm and abiding belief that any undertaking requiring insect repellent should be relocated to somewhere that doesn't require insect repellent, how reasonable an amount is that? How many people was it intended to equip? How much sunscreen and insect repellent did they allocate per person? Is that a reasonable amount to allocate per person? Is that a reasonable amount to spend for that quantity of sunscreen and insect repellent? How much would it go for retail? How much would it go for wholesale/bulk? What SPF did they get? How much DEET did they get?

That would be informative. The dollar amounts without context are practically useless. If I wanted to clutch my pearls because an amount greater than my own net worth was spent on supplies and logistics for a large-scale international event, I'd read the Toronto Sun. Do better, legitimate media!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Things They Should Invent: "Are you knowledgeable enough to vote?" quiz

I'm really struggling with the fact that I have to vote for a school board trustee. I've looked at all my candidates' websites and have some vague thoughts on the matter, but I don't know enough about the issues affecting TDSB and its students. I'm a generally politically aware person, I've been to school myself, and I've read all the candidates' websites. Is that enough? I have no idea. I've never even set foot inside a TDSB school except when I go into one to vote. There could be vast amounts of stuff I'm missing. I think it's inethical for me to vote if I'm doing it in ignorance, and I think it's inethical for me not to vote if I can do it informedly. And I have no way of knowing whether or not I can do it informedly.

I want someone to make an internet quiz that will tell me (and other people) whether I'm knowledgeable enough to vote. Then I could use that information to either choose not to vote, or educate myself some more. Maybe there could be like a total of 100 questions but the quiz randomly selects 10 each time you take it, so you can study up and take the quiz again, but you have to learn more than just the answer to 10 simple questions.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The real test for the reliability of fire sprinklers

I blogged before that my concern about having fire sprinklers in my home would be what happens if they malfunction.

Whenever I express this concern, all I get is people telling me "But they don't malfunction," and often trying to convince me of their benefit by saying you get a discount on your insurance premiums if you have sprinklers.

So here's the real test: would those insurance companies who are so proudly offering a discount for sprinklers be willing to cover any damage that comes from malfunctioning sprinklers, without any increase in premium?

What could an adult possibly get out of deliberately upsetting a child?

When I was a kid, various adults (especially from my father's branch of the family) would tease me or pretend to do stuff that would make life unpleasant for me ("accidentally" throw out a valued toy, drive away without me, etc.) or otherwise be rather mean to me. My mother would try to comfort me with the in-retrospect bizarre statement "Don't worry, he's just trying to upset you."

But why was he trying to upset me? Why would an adult deliberately try to upset a child? What would they get out of it? Why is it worth doing?

As a kid, I chalked it up to "grownups are weird". But I'm the same age now as my father was when I was born, and I can't fathom, even for the weirdest and most unpleasant of my peers, what reward or enjoyment or amusement they might get out of upsetting a kid that would make it worth the effort.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Half-formed idea: algorithmic approach to TTC expansion

This post arises from a combination of ideas.

1. A number of very loud political candidates want to wreck Transit City because they want subways. They seem to think LRTs now preclude subways later.

2. There is a sysadmin approach whereby hardware upgrades are algorithmic. They make a rule (presumably based on some calculations or intelligence or standard procedure) that if the system reaches X% capacity Y% of the time, they upgrade capacity.

3. It is possible to do vast 20-year economic projections of population growth, service use, and revenue generation, and to project how all of these will be affected by certain factors. They can then use these things to work out random crazy things like "If mortgage rates jump sharply today, how will that affect passenger loads at Pearson a year from now? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years?"

So we combine all three of these things, and we get an algorithmic approach to TTC expansion. They determine that if a bus hits a certain capacity, it gets upgraded into an LRT, and if an LRT hits a certain capacity, it gets upgraded into a subway.

We know that better transit service will eventually lead to intensification, which will lead to a broader tax base and more transit users. This is the sort of thing economic forecasting can quantify, which can be used to cost out the upgrades, determine which will be most profitable most quickly, and ultimately work out an algorithm for prioritizing them.

So they get a bunch of smart people to figure all this out in specific terms and make a massive plan specifying conditions under which transit lines are upgraded and a method for determining which lines will be upgraded first. They make a plan to grow using internally generated revenue, and another plan for outside funding from other levels of government, so transit improvement isn't paralyzed by withdrawl of outside funding. Maybe internal funding is used to target the areas most in need, and external funding is used to target areas with most revenue-generation potential, so it can be presented more as an investment on funding applications. The plan could of course be tweakable as new factors come into play, but in general it should come down to "Once a route reaches X capacity, it gets upgraded."

Then this approach, and the algorithms and economic forecasting used to work it out, are all made publicly available, so people can see what exactly is driving specific expansion decisions, and can see that, yes, they will get a subway eventually. Hopefully this will protect our transit system from politicos who want to dismantle existing plans and remake it in their own image every election cycle (or at least make their plans look foolish) and encourage more long-term thinking.

Now, it's quite possible that the TTC already does this. I'd be very surprised if they didn't already have an economic forecast. If so, they should publicize this information - post it on their website and make people aware of its existence, to give more credibility to their plans and make "NO! Kill it and build a subway to my house!" politically unviable.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shyness as selfish: a more useful approach

A while back, I heard the idea that shyness is selfish, and I blogged about why this selfishness (insofar as it is selfish) seems perfectly reasonable to shy people.

However, explaining the concept as "shyness is selfish" is unhelpful, because what it's really saying is "Stop being shy!" And you can't just stop being shy. You need specific strategies, accrued experience, a safe environment, and cumulative empirical evidence of the net results produced by non-shy behaviour. It isn't a matter of convincing people why to do it, it's a matter of explaining in specific terms how.

Today it occurred to me that the real point is that non-shy behaviour is helpful and useful. I learned this by watching my Gen Y colleagues, who are so much more confident and Entitled than I am. This is useful to me. I don't have to think of everything myself or start all the conversations or figure out what the other person needs. If your goal is to get people to unshy, it would be far more effective to show them why and how unshying is helpful to others rather than just making them feel guilty for being "selfish" on top of feeling shy.

I've heard this presented in loose terms by people saying you should "contribute", but that implies that what you say has to be big and important enough to be considered a "contribution", which adds even more pressure. And there's also conventional wisdom like "Ask questions!" and "Approach another person who's shy!" But that doesn't work so well, because if you're shy the last thing you want is some stranger wandering up and interrogating you.

It's more useful to express precisely what unshy actions a shy person can take and why exactly they're helpful to others, and even more useful to witness this in action. It takes self-awareness and bravery and a supportive environment, but it's far more useful than just telling the shy person they're being selfish.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What is the meaningfulness of the gap between mean and median household income?

Torontoist's ward profiles include both mean ("average") and median household income for each ward. In some wards the mean and median are very close, and in others there's a huge gap. This is intriguing, but I can't figure out why it's happening or what it means. (I do know the difference between a mean and a median, but I can't wrap my brain around the significance of these gaps) Help me out here:

1. What is the meaningfulness of a large gap between median and mean as opposed to a small gap?
2. Large gaps tend to occur in wards with higher income. Why is this? Is it meaningful? Is it possible for it to occur in wards with lower income, and, if so, under what circumstances?
3. Why does mean tend to be higher? Is it always higher? Is it mathematically possible for it to be lower, and, if so, under what circumstances?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Question for grownups

Is "balancing a chequebook" an actual task? I always thought it was just an expression for making sure you don't run out of money, but this old For Better Or For Worse strip makes it sound like it's an actual thing you have to do. (Also, why is Elly saying "check" instead of "cheque"?)

What does it mean? Is it something I should know how to do or is it now obsolete? I'm not unfamiliar with using cheques (some of my bills still had to be paid by cheque for various reasons when I was first starting out, my old landlord had me pay rent by cheque), but it never...occurred to me, I suppose, to do any actual task that could be described as balancing one's chequebook.

Things They Should Invent: teach the words for advanced emotions as vocabulary words in elementary school

When I was in maybe Grade 6, in a class they called "Guidance" (which was basically an ineffective attempt to help us through the torments of adolescence) they taught us to use "I feel..." statements. "When you [X], I feel [Y], because [Z]". Of course, the problem was that if we'd ever actually used those statements, our peers would have laughed at us for using a formula we'd been taught in Guidance. But beyond that, the problem was that in situations where I wanted to scream and throw things and hit people, I didn't know the words for the emotions I was feeling. I wasn't feeling "happy" or "sad" or "angry", I was feeling "belittled" or "hypocritical" or "futile" or "objectified" or "helpless" or "condescended to" or "dehumanized".

The solution: introduce these words for more complex emotions in elementary school. They could be spelling words, they could be words that occur in books read in class, they could be vocabulary words. Then when people grow into adolescence and have more complex emotions, they'll be able to articulate what they're feeling when necessary.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Will young speech markers one day become elderly speech markers?

Even though I'm nearly 30, the features that mark my speech as young and female aren't going away. I still use upspeak. I still "like" quotatively and as a discourse marker. I still use "awesome" for things like youtube videos. I still use "dis" in casual conversation - I'd never use it in a translation, but I'd use it when explaining verbally why a word choice in a translation is unsuitable. "It makes it sound like he's dissing him." This isn't going to change. This is my dialect. And I've noticed that it's here to stay in many, if not all, of my peers.

These speech markers were used by teenagers who were cooler than me when I was a child, and my peers and I absorbed them by emulating the cool big kids. That means the early adopters are now at least in their late 30s-early 40s. It's possible there are even older early adopters who grew up in places that are on the cutting edge of linguistic trends.

Their dialect likely hasn't changed and isn't going to change. They still talk the same as they ever did. So in another decade or so, a quorum of working-age adults are going to upspeak.

I don't know if younger generations also upspeak etc. It might be too soon to tell. If they do, it's going to read as unmarked a generation from now. If they don't, in 30 years or so it will read as old lady talk. And in the interim, it will just read as people of a certain age trying to be friendly and perky, like how currently certain women of a certain age seem to deliberately modulate their speaking voice to make it more...melodious, I suppose...when they're trying to be friendly.


When writing a sentence that ended up not needing to be in this post, I started talking about how we wouldn't use upspeak et al when arguing a case in court, because it's non-authoritative.

But this made me realize that I use it in contexts where I'm speaking non-authoritatively to specifically designate that I'm being non-authoritative. When I have to be authoritative, I speak authoritatively. When talking to my peers or doing business or just having everyday social interactions, I'm not speaking authoritatively so I use my non-authoritative natural dialect. I sometimes even exaggerate my speech markers in situations where I'm emphasizing my lack of authoritativeness for social lubrication

So this makes me think that we used it with greater frequency as teens because we didn't really have any reason to be speaking authoritatively. Our parents might have wrung their hands because they couldn't picture a person arguing a case in court while talking like that. But would parents actually want their teenagers talking to them with the authority of a lawyer in court? If I'd done that, I would have been told either to stop talking back (which is bizarre, because as I've been working on Entitlement I've come to realize that I suffered far more for not "talking back", because my grownups actually did tacitly expect me to even though they told me not to), or I would have been told "don't be smart!" (Unless, of course, I was being told to "smarten up".) For a teen to speak authoritatively is perceived as disrespectful by their elders and stuck-up by their peers. Is it any wonder that we don't do so in situations where we don't have authority?

Things They Should Invent: self-obsoleting road tolls

There has been talk of introducing road tolls to reduce congestion and help pay for infrastructure, and of course car people are vehemently opposed.

I previously came up with the idea of congestion-based tolls - the more cars on the road, the higher the toll. Let's build on that and charge tolls only when there are so many cars that traffic isn't flowing smoothly. If traffic on a particular road is flowing smoothly, everything's fine, we don't need tolls. If traffic is congested and yet people are still trying to drive on the road, we start charging them tolls. (There would be signage before you enter the road).

If you're a Metropass subscriber, you get a special transponder that allows you to drive on the toll roads for free. (Alternate marketing idea to attract the motorist demographic: It's an All-Access Pass that, in addition to giving you unlimited travel on the toll roads, gives you unlimited travel on the TTC.) This is good because your money is going to the TTC (which ultimately gets cars off roads).

There would also be incentives for carpooling. If you have two transponders in your car, you get 50% off tolls. If you have three or more, you get to ride for free. Since each transponder must be issued to a registered and insured vehicle (but doesn't have to be physically attached to the vehicle, so you can take it with you while carpooling), this will make sure that carpooling incentives to go actual carpoolers, not people just driving their kids around.

So ultimately, if enough people take the TTC or carpool or take alternate routes, road tolls will never be collected. But if people continue to insist on engaging in congestion-producing behaviour, road tolls will be collected. But the tolls will be used to improve infrastructure so as to reduce congestion in the long run, so ultimately they will go extinct either way.

Friday, September 10, 2010

There is such thing as an accident

The Toronto Star's Public Editor discusses whether it's appropriate to use the word "accident" to refer to a car crash, on the basis that there's always a reason or cause for a car crash. In this article, Sgt. Tim Burrows of the Toronto Police says:

“drive distracted, impaired, fatigued, aggressive, unaware or unskilled and you will cause injuries and/or death.”

I don't think "unskilled" belongs on this list. While it is true that being unskilled increases your risk of an accident, being unskilled is not negligent. It is not deliberate. It is not a moral failing, it is not a sin, and it can coexist with absolutely perfect diligence. Being unskilled - and driving while unskilled - is necessary and unavoidable; all skilled drivers were once unskilled drivers.

Suppose I called up Sgt. Burrows and said "I'm an unskilled driver. What can I do to remedy that?" He would probably tell me to find a reputable driving school. Then suppose I find my reputable driving school and ask them what I can do to become a skilled driver. I am absolutely certain that, on top of giving me a training plan, they would tell me "Practise, practise, practise." So to become a skilled driver, I would have to drive while unskilled, extensively. I would have to drive through my entire unskilled phase, and my unskilled phase wouldn't go away unless I drove through it. Yes, instruction is available, but you really do have to practise to make it work.

As an example, let's look at the problem of black ice. I have never knowingly experienced black ice as either a driver or a passenger, and I have never knowingly seen black ice. (It's possible that I met it as a child before I ever had to think about how to drive on it, but I have no memory of any sight or experience called "black ice.") As it happens, I do have some driver education and I do know the theory of what to do on black ice, but, having never knowingly encountered it, I remain unskilled.

So suppose I get behind the wheel of a car and encounter some black ice. Would I recognize it? Maybe, maybe not. Would I react correctly and in time? Maybe, maybe not. I have no way of knowing. Perhaps I'll release the gas pedal, tap the brakes, steer in the direction I want to go (not falling into the trap of thinking about what "steer into the skid" actually means), and bring my car to a safe stop. Or perhaps I won't realize what's happening until it's too late, crash into something, and then go "Oh, so THAT'S what black ice is!"

If I do crash the very first time I ever encounter black ice, that would be entirely due to being unskilled, and entirely an accident. It wouldn't be on purpose. It wouldn't be due to negligence. And, in my specific case, it wouldn't be preventable. Maybe it's just one of those cases where you can't do something right until you try it a few times. The first time I don't recognize what's happening until it's too late. The second time I realize what's happening, but maybe you have to turn the wheel and do the brakes with more or less intensity than I'd anticipated. The third time maybe I get it right. Not much we can do to expedite that learning curve. Yes, it's certainly suboptimal and a risk to the other drivers on the road for me to be out there without having ever been on black ice, but there's no other way to become skilled at it.

One thing I think I've noticed is that driving is one of the few areas where being unskilled is seen as some kind of moral failing, rather than a benign need to practise more or work harder. It's possible I'm biased towards noticing this pattern because driving is one of the things I'm worst at (another thing I'm bad at - and where lack of skill is also seen as something of a red flag - is people skills). In most other areas of life, I find if I'm not good at something, general societal attitude is a chipper "Don't worry, work hard and practise and you'll be fine!" When I was a kid being pressured into being an engineer, I was told not to worry about the fact that I'm not good at making or designing actual physical things that exist in reality - school would get me there! There are even certain circles where being good at stuff is considered "elite" and therefore suspect. But in driving, it's the opposite. We've all heard people shout "Learn to drive!" at other cars. The Globe & Mail recently had a column where an adult learning to drive for the first time wrote about her experiences, and there were people in the comments telling her to get off the road because she doesn't know how to drive.

In most areas of life, I feel it's morally imperative for me to be instantly competent, but the rest of the world disagrees. Early on in my current job, I did a bit of a messy job on a difficult text and apologized to my reviser. He replied "You've been here two weeks! We don't expect you to be good yet!" But driving is one of the few areas of life where it would take a long time for me to become competent, and the rest of the world sees that as a moral failing.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

First days of school

First day of kindergarten. I'm scared and nervous. I don't know objectively what my parents did or did not do, but I felt like no one had every told me this was coming. So I want to bring Smurfy, my very favourite toy Smurf and best friend in the world, with me. My mother tells me "If you bring Smurfy, everyone will know you have a Smurf." I think this is a good thing. After all, he's a good Smurf and I'm proud of him!

First day of middle school. I have to take the bus. Some of the older boys at the bus stop are really big and scary and testosterony (although I don't yet know that word). The kids from the other elementary school are somehow more worldly (although I don't yet know that word) and bring into our grade a whole new set of unspoken rules. I manage to break most of them the first day, before I was even aware that they were there.

First day of high school. I'm wearing blue because a magazine quiz told me that's what colour I am, not yet having any idea how to select flattering clothes. I'm wearing make-up! Concealer under my eyes, a bit of powder because it seemed like the thing to do, mascara on my lashes, white eyeshadow under my brows, and lipstick. It was actually more attractive than it sounds. I'm back to walking to school and feel very independent doing so, but I have to walk alone because none of my friends are along my route. A couple of bigger, older boys are walking in front of me but more slowly than I am, and I agonize over whether I should pass them on the sidewalk. It seems vaguely uppity (although I don't yet know that word) to pass people who are supposed to be bigger and stronger and more athletic than me, and I'm worried I'll get bullied for it. I get to the school and there's no one around that I know. My supposed best friend isn't there because the first day of school fell on Rosh Hashanah that year. Little do I know that she's decided she doesn't want to be my friend any more. She, and the rest of the circle, are going to abandon me, and the girls who are her new friends (I don't even know how she made new friends with that group so quickly) are going to be mean to me. I will spend the next 2.5 years literally friendless.

First day of university at my alma mater. I'm in 2nd year when I move into student housing the first time, and am mistaken for a frosh and told to go to a frosh orientation event. I realize early on that it's for frosh and sneak out under the guise of going to the bathroom, thinking that they're somehow enforcing attendance. There's pizza in the caf and it looks and smells so very tempting, but if I go there and buy it they'll see me. So, thinking that somehow they even care, I sneak out the other way and go back to my room, where my very first meal living on my own is a cup of instant noodles eaten in my bedroom.

Today. I woke up in the same apartment I've lived in for 3 years, put on a flattering outfit I've worn to work dozens of times before, and went to the same job I've had for 7 years. There I saw the same people and did the same work as the day before and the week before and the year before. The rules and expectations are the same, and if for some reason they aren't I can ask outright what they are. Life stays the same. No major changes. Pas de rentrée.

I love adulthood!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Justice Lori Douglas did nothing wrong and there is no reason to suspend her

I was shocked to read that Justice Lori Douglas "has requested to be temporarily relieved of her duties as a sitting justice of the province's Court of Queen's Bench", and will "remain in her position in an administrative capacity" as the Canadian Judicial Council investigates a complaint against her. Justice Douglas did absolutely nothing wrong and there is nothing about the situation that warrants an investigation.

The alleged professional misconduct was by Justice Douglas's husband, Jack King, who propositioned the complainant, one of his clients. The complainant was never Justice Douglas's client, and Justice Douglas did not do the alleged propositioning. (In fact, if she had done the propositioning, it would not have been professional misconduct because the complainant was not her client.)

Mr. King has already admitted that he was sharing the sexually explicit photos of his wife without her knowledge (and therefore, we can assume, without her consent). This makes her a victim, just like the complainant.

At this point, some people are thinking "But he's her husband!" Yes, he is. Think about your husband - or wife, or boyfriend, or girlfriend, or whatever else you call your partner. Think of the last time they did something idiotic. Was it your fault? Could you have stopped them even if it were your responsibility to do so? Did this have any bearing whatsoever on your sense of judgement as it pertains to your job?

And at this point, some people are thinking "But did you hear about what she was doing in those pictures? Disgusting!" I agree completely. I find the activities described completely repulsive and worlds away from my lofty ideas of what marriage should be.

That's why I've taken the sensible measure of not engaging in those sorts of activities or marrying anyone who enjoys doing so. However, all married couples engage in activities that not everyone would enjoy within the privacy of their marriage. I know more than one couple for whom foreplay includes taking basal body temperature and verifying the quality of cervical mucus. I can't think of anything less sexy! I know couples who enjoy spending their weekends renovating their home, or growing and preserving their own food. That's no way to live! I know couples who think camping is an appropriate honeymoon activity! Ugh!!

And, really, that's what marriage is for - creating life the way the two of you enjoy, with all your quirks and everything, regardless of what anyone else in the world thinks. There's a beautiful phrase in the bible of all things describing marriage as leaving your family of origin and "cleaving unto" your spouse. It draws up this image of throwing off the shackles and drama and baggage forced onto you in your early life and holding fast to the one you love, the two of you united against everything the world throws at you. And that's what Justice Douglas and Mr. King were doing when engaging in kinky activities that I and many other people find distasteful - cleaving unto each other, creating the life of their choosing regardless of what the rest of us think, just like every other married couple.

Therefore, according to testimony by the subject of the complaint, Justice Douglas did not have a professional relationship with the complainant, did not participate in the act that is alleged to be professional misconduct, and was in fact a victim of the subject of the complaint. The only negative thing anyone has been able to come up with about Justice Douglas is that evidence exists that she engaged in conjugal activities that not everyone would enjoy, with the full knowledge and enthusiastic consent of her husband. Nothing here anything near remotely cause for inquiry by one's employer.

I am confident that the investigation will find no wrongdoing on Justice Douglas's part, but I'm astounded that anyone with the intelligence, worldliness, broad-mindedness, and sense of nuance necessary to be a judge would think an investigation is necessary in the first place.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Things They Should Invent: indicate the percent income tax paid on the notice of assessment

The notices of assessment we get from Revenue Canada after we file our tax returns already indicate our income for the year and the amount of income tax we pay that year.

They should also show as a line item the percentage of our income we paid in tax.

There are a lot of popular misconceptions about how much tax we pay in Canada. There also seems to be a strong movement towards transparency in taxation, which is apparently why they don't include sales tax in the sticker price when you buy stuff at the store.

Simply adding this line item would make the whole process far more transparent for everyone and would make Canadians better informed of their real taxation levels. The tax preparation software I've been using these past few years (I forget which one it is - it's on my mother's computer) tells you this, and I find it very informative.

It would be practically no effort to implement. It's a simple Excel function. They could probably get it done in 15 minutes.