Sunday, October 31, 2010

In this blog's ongoing tradition of claiming credit for everything...

Last year, I proposed changing the meaning of the word "circumnavigate".

In today's Star: "On the merits of circumnavigation by motorized scooter, this reporter pegged Saturday’s crowd at roughly 300,000"

How to get Rogers to realize that there's a network problem in your neighbourhood

My internet's been down for nearly three days with some complicated problem that's maybe three levels more complicated than I can understand. (They were pulling wires out of my walls and testing them, then had to get the supers to let them pull wires out of the building's walls, then had to escalate it one level above that.) The techs who helped me were awesome - communicative, respectful of my need to have my internet service work, accepted my troubleshooting and explained what they were doing when it got above the level I can understand, didn't make me uncomfortable even though I had a cumulative total of three strange men who were bigger than me in my apartment - and made the process as painless as possible. They were carrying extra modems with them, and were fully prepared to just replace my modem on the spot if that ended up being a problem! I'm not happy about 3 days without internet, but I'm very satisfied with the service I received.

But here I just want to share one thing the tech told me, because if everyone knows this it will make life easier for all of us: Rogers only knows there's an outage in a given area if a lot of people call them!

If only one or two people call, they have to start by treating it as an individualized problem, which means walking people through troubleshooting over the phone, and if that doesn't work sending techs to individual households to check the modems and the cabling. They can only start treating it as a macro problem if they get a large number of calls all from the same area or if, as in my case, the techs are dispatched to an individual household and spend an hour painstakingly confirming every single thing that could possibly be causing the problem within the household.

So it turns out our natural reaction - "Meh, I don't want to wait on hold for ages! I'm sure they already know about this, I'll just patiently do something else until they fix it." - are counterproductive, and we need to call in when we're experiencing a network problem.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Teach me how to disinfect (or psychologically decontaminate) apples

I'm on the subway juggling my purse, book, and a number of shopping bags, one of which contains a gorgeous batch of farm-fresh Cortland apples (my very favourite!) from the very last farmer's market day of the year.

The train pulls into my stop, I stand up, and somehow a few of the apples spill out of my bag and start rolling around the subway floor.

Three or four extremely friendly, helpful, and well-intentioned people swoop into action, gather up all the dropped apples, and quickly put them back into my bag before the doors close.

So now my bag of the very last of the very best apples of the year contains some apples that have been on the floor of the subway. I don't want to eat the subway floor apples, but I don't even know which ones they are! (And they've probably all touched now!)

How can I disinfect apples that have been on the subway floor so they're safe to eat and not at all psychologically yucky?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My political strategy oracle lives on

I've blogged before about this weird pattern of my blog posts becoming political strategy.

That pattern seems to be continuing.

Yesterday, I told you to tell Rob Ford what we need from our city.

This morning, Rob Ford said:

If people didn’t vote for me, I have to convince them to vote for me next time. If they want to call me and talk to me they’re more than welcome to, and I’ll try to respond to all the calls.

(I'm not sure what's up with the emphasis on calling - surely it's quicker, easier, more effective, and more informative for everyone involved to do this by email - but the gist is the same.)

Now if only I could influence actual policy rather than just strategy...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So what now?

In the wake of last night's election results, here's the plan:

1. Everyone tell Rob Ford what we need from our city. Mr. Ford has a reputation for being very good at constituency work. We are all now his constituency. Let's all email him and tell him in specific terms what we need, whether it's a crosstown LRT or better pest control in TCHC buildings or longer library hours. He has built the indisputably positive part of his reputation on it, so let's make use of that for the greater good of our city.

2. Rely on your councillor. We all have a city councillor, directly elected to represent our ward. Many of them are newly-elected, an number of them have strong mandates. They each have a vote on council equal to Mr. Ford's. Let's make it clear to them what we need, and that we need them to stand up for and defend us.

3. Don't allow others to define the narrative. If politicos and media are telling us something that doesn't reflect our reality, don't blindly accept it or assume they must be right and your situation must be a fluke. Express your truth as unmitigated truth, speak up when someone is lying to you about your truth, and don't let anyone tell you differently.

We are more than these election results (especially as presented in the media) make us out to be - more complex and more nuanced, with a broader and more long-term point of view than they're giving us credit for. All we have to do is be the fuck out if it. Remember the #MyToronto hashtag? We just have to live it every day. #OurToronto

How accurate are voter turnout numbers?

This should be a tweet, but I couldn't get it down to 140. Real blog posts coming later.

My sister and I both received voter registration cards at our parents' address. Neither of us has lived there in years. I've never even been eligible to vote municipally there (i.e. there were no municipal elections between my 18th birthday and the day I moved out).

Therefore, official statistics show voter turnout at my parents' address as 50%. In reality it was 100% - both my parents voted, and my sister and I both voted in our respective cities.

In addition to the voter card I received at my parents' address, I also received one at my own address and used it to vote here in Toronto. Therefore, official statistics show my own personal voter turnout as 50%, whereas in reality it was 100%.

This causes me to question whether low voter turnout numbers are really as low as they seem.

Monday, October 25, 2010


You know how movies set in New York City are disproportionately set in that tiny window of fall when there's a perfect ratio of colourful leaves on the trees to colourful leaves on the ground, and they can dress the characters in skirts or dresses or scarves or coats or boots or any combination thereof in that flawless balance that works so well fashion-wise but is hardly ever appropriate to the weather in real life? That's what my city looked like as I headed out to work this morning. The fog was lifting, my ipod was playing U2, all the usual characters were out and about, and life was beautiful.

My walk to the voting station this evening took me on a route I haven't taken since I moved, up the street I used to live on and along a street where I haven't had any reason to go in years. My ipod was playing Aerosmith and the golden afternoon sun was just starting to turn into a sunset. Some things had changed in that part of the neighbourhood, but all the changes were for the better. Some buildings were new and some had been renovated. That one Halloween decoration that utterly freaks me out isn't there any more. There were more people, and they were more diverse. It makes me feel good about my city.

My new driver's licence arrived today, just in time for me to use it as ID to vote. A sign? The line was long but moving well, and people were relaxed and groovy. I saw a lot of newbies without existing registration cards. The kid who gave me my ballot was an earnest Justin Suarez doppelgänger, explaining municipal ballots to me as though I've never voted municipally before. I let him. A mildly suspicious-looking man sat right next to me at the voting table rather than choosing a distant, unoccupied table. I pulled the cardboard thing over my ballot and voted away. I saw a few cute doggies that made me squee, but I didn't get a chance to pet any of them. (For those of you just turning in, when I get to pet a doggie on the way to vote, the election always turns out well.) But I feel good about how I voted. Really, disproportionately good.

May the rest of my beautiful city do the same.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Open Letter to Torontonians who are not planning to vote tomorrow

Dear fellow citizens who are planning not to vote:

I assume you're planning not to vote because none of the candidates whom the media has arbitrarily deemed viable strikes you as acceptable.

So here's what I want you to do: vote for someone interesting, regardless of whether you think they have a chance to win.

We are a diverse, complex, nuanced city with dozens and dozens of candidates for the position of mayor alone, and the media has not been reflecting this. That does us all a disservice, and is most likely ultimately the reasons why you aren't hearing of any candidates that sound acceptable.

To combat this, to show the media - and the world - that we're more complex and nuanced and interesting than they're treating us as, everyone needs to pick someone interesting and vote for them. It could be someone with a fantastic platform. It could be someone whose pluck and audacity in running for public office you admire. It could be the candidate who actually answers your questions on Twitter. It could be the candidate whose platform is of most benefit to you personally, without regard for the greater good of the city.

"But they have no chance of winning!" So? It's not like you were going to vote for one of the people who does have a chance of winning. Besides, there's no penalty for voting for someone who doesn't win.

"But there's so many candidates, I don't have time to figure out who's best!" You don't have to figure out who's best, you just have to figure out who's good. You already have a nose for who's bad (or you wouldn't be choosing not to vote), so pick someone who isn't bad, who you think is better than the people whom the media has deemed to have a chance at winning. If you don't vote, the best candidate definitely won't get your vote. If you do vote for someone who you think is good, the best candidate just might end up getting your vote.

"But I don't have a full sense of the issues, I can't make a fully informed choice." Because you're considering not voting, you're obviously savvy enough to determine when a platform is unacceptable. So read the platform of the candidate who interests you and make sure it's acceptable. By voting for someone whose platform you find acceptable, you're making the statement "See, this is the sort of thing I'm looking for."

To get you started, here's a Twitter list of all the non-frontrunner mayoral candidates who are on Twitter. And here's where to find all the candidates for all offices. Pick one who's interesting and has an acceptable platform, and vote for them. Help show the media and the world that there's far more to us than this false binary they've boxed us into.

A bizarre testimonial for Bounty paper towels

It's a rainy Sunday morning. I'm just out of the shower with my hair sopping wet. I sleepwalk into the kitchen to make coffee...only to discover I'm completely out of coffee filters! Frack! Now what? I don't want to go out in the rain, I don't want to blow-dry my hair, I just want a fricking cup of coffee!

So I start googling for makeshift coffee filters, and quickly discover the general consensus is that you can use paper towels. I have paper towels!

So I take two sheets of my Bounty Select-A-Size (equal to one regular paper towel, which is what the internet tells me I should use), put it in the basket, add ground coffee, and press go.

The machine starts brewing. There's a bit more steam than usual and it smells vaguely like paper towels, but it's producing something that looks like coffee.

The brew cycle finishes, and I pour the results into the mug. It looks like coffee, it smells like coffee, and it tastes like...hella weak-ass coffee! My paper towels absorbed enough of the coffee to dilute the entire cup!

Conclusion: Bounty paper towels are absorbent enough to dilute a cup of coffee. Useful for general household cleaning, suboptimal for use as a coffee filter.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I am not happy with media coverage of the Toronto election

I am not at all happy with how the media has been handling this Toronto election.

I think the electioneering started far too early, and I'm not happy with how the media was complicit in this by scheduling televised debates seven fricking months before election day.

I'm not happy with how the media has deemed the candidates of its choosing frontrunners and then practically ignored all other candidates. We have 40 mayoral candidates, and I have only seen 8 of their names in my newspapers, with only 5 of them treated like serious candidates! My ward has 4 city council candidates, and what little media coverage we've gotten has arbitrarily deemed only 2 of them viable.

I am not happy with how the media has allowed the candidates rather than the people to define the issues and narrative. Nearly every day for the better part of this year I've opened the newspaper to find someone trying to win my vote by lying to my face about what I want and need from my city.

I'm not happy at all with how the media has given me absolutely no information whatsoever to help me make an informed vote for my school board trustee. There are no current, past, or future TDSB students in my household. I don't even actually know what the issues are, and the media has done nothing to help me in this area.

What I want from the media is extensive objective information. I want all candidates and their platforms profiled and given equal space, and to be allowed to decide for myself which ones are viable. I want newspapers to track down that one candidate in my ward who doesn't have a website and profile her just like all the other candidates, not completely ignore her. I want an objective overview of the issues, as defined by the people, not the candidates. I want factual information readily available - What does the city's budget currently look like? What are the cost and capacity per kilometre of LRTs vs. subways? - and zero spin. I want objective primers on how to decide how to vote for people who haven't voted in Toronto or in their ward before, or are otherwise unfamiliar with mayoral/councillor/trustee issues. And I don't want any of this to start before Labour Day.

I can make snap judgements based on the loudest elements of candidates' reputations myself. I can ignore candidates I've never heard of myself. I can sit passively by as the candidates define the issues and take their every statement at face value myself. If I wanted to do this, I wouldn't need the media. I'm going to the media because I want more than I can do myself. And it's time for them to step up and deliver.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Globe and Mail frightens me

The City of Toronto tells its residents each winter to “be nice, clear your ice,” yet it has 6,300 addresses on file of people who cannot. Instead, municipal workers are sent to chop it up and remove it for them. Why must the infirm and aged rely on a city to remove snow and ice from their sidewalks? Where are their neighbours?

When I read this in a Globe and Mail editorial, I had a strong emotional reaction that I can best characterize as part fear, part helplessness, part "NO FAIR!" I've had it kicking around in my head for two weeks, and I'm finally able to articulate why I feel this way.

The Globe & Mail editorial is assuming its readers are the people who are capable of helping. In fact, they're looking at it solely from the perspective of the people who are capable of helping, with no identification or empathy whatsoever for the people who are in need of help.

I identify with the people who are in need of help. While I am capable of shovelling a sidewalk specifically, in life in general I'll never be wholly self-sufficient. There will always be areas of life that I won't be able to handle by myself. And it terrifies me that they'd want to take away a measure that guarantees assistance in areas we can't handle ourselves and instead put us at the mercy of those who happen to be near us.

Currently the situation is as follows:

Government: "You must obey this law!
You: "I'm physically incapable of obeying that law."
Government: "Well, we aren't unreasonable. Give us your name and address, and we'll send someone over to take care of it for you."

The Globe and Mail wants to change this situation to the following:

Government: "You must obey this law!"
You: "I'm physically incapable of obeying that law."
Government: "Well, your neighbours should be good citizens and take care of it for you. But if they don't, you will be punished for disobeying the law."

Isn't that terrifying? Can't they see why that's terrifying?

On top of that, and apart from the fact that putting you at the mercy of your neighbours introduces the possibility of extortion and exploitation, building a relationship where you can ask your neighbours for help requires a certain amount of social skill/credibility on the part of the people in need of help. Do they not realize how much privilege that takes?

I can usually convince people to help me when I need help. But I'm a harmless-looking white girl. I speak clear and articulate English and am able to communicate both my need for help and culturally-appropriate apologies for the imposition. I have a beautiful smile, have bathed within the past 24 hours, and own a suitable variety of clothing that falls within the range of general social norms. I have the financial stability to pay all my bills on time. When I have a panic attack, it's because of something that's visible and tangible that is culturally marked as scary and/or yucky. I live in a context where I lose no face if I say "I'm not strong enough to lift that." And I also live in a context where the people I already trust can often help me with the stuff I need help with. This is all privilege, and none of it is entirely of my own making, some of it being completely outside my control.

People would be less likely to help me if I was a shady-looking old man, or if I were snaggle-toothed and smelly. People would be less likely to help me if my request for help was crude and unclear and didn't contain acknowledgment and mitigation of the imposition. My supers and other people I do business with would be less inclined to help me with stuff that's not strictly within their mandate if I didn't have an impeccable record of paying what I owe on time. I'd get far less understanding if my panic attacks were caused by something only I can see. It wouldn't work nearly as well if it were a humiliation for me to admit I don't have the physical strength required for the task, or if I had to go to strangers or randoms or people I don't trust for help with things that are better handled by people I trust. There are lots of people who are in these situations, often for reasons that are not within their control.

It terrifies me that the Globe and Mail doesn't see this. It terrifies me that the fricking newspaper of record would presume to tell us as Canadians that we should change things in a way that puts those in need at the mercy of people who happen to be in the general vicinity. And it terrifies me that it doesn't even seem to cross their minds that their readership might contain people in need, instead marginalizing this ever-growing segment of the population with a few ill-chosen words, and then printing then on the front page above the fold.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A translation

For money, I translate other languages into English. For fun, I translate English into English. Today, I would like to translate the following passage:

South Korea is promising a cheaper and more beautiful G20 after watching the uproar over Toronto’s imposing grey security fence and a final summits tab that ballooned past $1-billion.


As for the security costs, there will be no high-end hotel snacks or luxury linens for South Korean police officers. That’s a key reason why South Korea says its budget will be “far below” what Toronto spent on back-to-back G7 and G20 summits earlier this year.


South Korea will avoid these costs entirely. The police in Seoul will come from the ranks of the country’s compulsory two-year military or police service.

“They are paid very little,” explains Chan-Ho Ha, South Korea’s ambassador to Canada, who watched the debate over the Toronto summit closely. “We don’t have such luxury. I mean, putting them in hotel rooms. In Toronto, the police were in hotels, but [the South Korean police] just have their own tent or mobile barracks. So we can save a lot of money.”

Translation: "Don't worry, our workers are essentially enslaved to the state and aren't granted the usual and customary comforts and conveniences of civilization, so we can gratuitously oppress the population at a far lower cost."

Saturday, October 16, 2010


From Miss Conduct's National Coming Out Day post:

It is the person who is making the extraordinary claim who needs to produce extraordinary evidence. I’m not going to pretend that the claim of gay equality is the extraordinary one anymore. Those who deny it are the ones who are making the extraordinary claims, not me. They are the ones who have to explain themselves.

When I read this, I realized this is something people tend to do, socially. We tend to pretend something that does not apply to the majority, or does not apply to the dominant demographic, or does not apply to the loudest people in the room, is somehow extraordinary, and therefore needs to be explained or defended or justified.

And that's simply not true. Even if something does not apply to the majority - even if something is outright uncommon - that doesn't make it extraordinary, it doesn't make it something that needs to be explained or defended or justified. I don't know how we fell into the habit of presumably coddling/mollifying the majority/the dominant demographic/the loudest people in the room by doing this, but it's really unnecessary and debases us all.

Analogy: I have green eyes. The majority of people do not have green eyes. But that doesn't make my eye colour extraordinary. It's a perfectly ordinary eye colour. If I were going to get my makeup done professionally, I wouldn't have to call ahead and warn them that I have green eyes and ask if they can accommodate that, and I wouldn't have to settle with a makeup job more appropriate to someone with blue eyes. Green eyes are unusual - according to the first page of google results, they occur in only 2% of the world's population - and I may well end up being the only green-eyed person the makeup artist sees that day, but it's well within the range of Things That Might Happen. It's by no means extraordinary, and it would debase us all if we were to start pretending it is.

This is actually something my instincts have been leading me to for quite a while. I blogged before about my tendency not to mark the feminine. What I was really saying was that being female is not extraordinary, and by not marking it I am choosing not to pretend that it is.

I once blogged about this quote from Tabatha Southey:

"Saying, "I'm a feminist," is almost like saying, "I have no problem with Pakistanis" - we're all just going to assume that one, okay? Unless you say otherwise."

What I really meant when I blogged about it was that being feminist or not having a problem with Pakitanis (or being Pakistani) is not extraordinary, and it does us no service to pretend that it is.

I've blogged several times about my own use of upspeak - how it has a purpose, how I'm not going to not use it and how my choice to use my own natural dialect is in fact a sign of security. What I'm really saying is that talking like (and being) a woman under 40 is not extraordinary, and it does us no service to pretend that it is so extraordinary we need to suppress and/or apologize for our demographic markers.

The Globe and Mail recently had an extended feature that they framed as a "discussion" about immigration, and I found it irritating for reasons I couldn't articulate at the time. Turns out the reason I found it irritating is because they were framing immigration as something extraordinary that needs to be explained and defended and justified.

Belonging to a religion or no religion is not extraordinary. Having a child or wanting a child or being childfree is not extraordinary. Having dietary restrictions is not extraordinary. Wearing what you choose to is not extraordinary. Having a same-sex spouse or an opposite-sex spouse or no spouse or a partner whom you deliberately do not call a spouse or any variation on "it's complicated" is not extraordinary. Being young or old or anywhere in between is not extraordinary. Having been born somewhere else or choosing to move somewhere else or staying in the same place all your life are not extraordinary.

None of these things are any more extraordinary than my green eyes (and, indeed, most of them are, statistically, less extraordinary than my green eyes). They do not need to be explained, defended, or justified. We simply need to be aware of and prepared for the fact that they're part of the reality we inhabit, just like how makeup artists have eyeshadow colours suitable for green eyes in their palette.

It gets better for everyone

I've been looking at Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project, and it occurs to me that it's more broadly applicable. I must emphasize that this in no way intended to minimize or trivialize the unique hell that queer kids in closed-minded places go through, just to build on and expand the message. If you're a kid or teen being tormented for something other than being queer - because your peers don't like your clothes or your hobbies or your tastes or your looks, or for some other unnamed breach of some unspoken rule - it gets better too!

In the real world, if someone thinks you have a big nose, they assume you already know and get on with their life.

In the real world, if someone doesn't like your clothes, they don't give it any further thought because they have bigger concerns.

In the real world, if someone doesn't want to be your friend, they're cordial when you're both in the same place at the same time and just don't make any overtures towards spending more time together.

In the real world, if someone sees you walking around without any friends with you, they assume you're a competent person going about your own life and your friends are also competent people going about their own lives.

In the real world, if someone doesn't like your hobbies or interests or taste in music, they leave you to it and go about their own lives.

In the real world, there's an online community (and, in any good-sized city, a real-life community) that's into whatever you're into. And they don't expect you to be into all the same things as they are either. Your gaming group isn't going to care if you like a different kind of music than they do. Your band isn't going to care if you don't play ultimate frisbee.

In the real world, if for whatever reason you find yourself in a situation you don't like or that makes you uncomfortable or where people are being idiots, you can walk away. You aren't trapped in school until the bell or stuck in the schoolbus until your stop. Your siblings and parents aren't trying to barge into your room all the time. You can come and go as your please. You have a car and/or a subway station around the corner and/or a cell phone and cab fare in your pocket, and you can always leave and go home and lock the door, or leave and go somewhere else that's more fun. In the real world, you can come and go as you please.

In the real world, you can look like you look, wear what you like, love whomever you love, do what you enjoy, and come and go as you please. People who like it will join in, and people who don't like it will simply disregard you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Things I Don't Understand: city councillor candidates endorsing strategic voting for the position of mayor

The more I think about it, the more I think there's no point in strategic voting for the position of mayor of Toronto. The mayor only gets one vote on council, equal to the votes of every one of the 44 councillors. There are no political parties at the municipal level, unlike the federal and provincial levels where the party with the most seats wins. Locally, if the mayor wants to ban subways, he'll vote against subways and every reasonable councillor will vote for subways, whereas federally and provincially if they want to ban subways, they can whip the vote and make every member of the ruling party vote against subways. It seems to me the worst the mayor can do is embarrass us as a figurehead, which barely even enters into it. (If you were a tourist, or a band trying to decide where to take your tour, or a business looking to open a new branch office, would you be thinking about the pleasantness of the local mayor?) The more I think about it, the more my opinion moves in this direction.

However, there have been some city councillor candidates (primarily incumbents) who have endorsed strategic voting for mayor. Why are they doing this? Are they saying their votes are powerless? What do they know that I don't?

And why are they running for city councillor if they feel their votes are so useless?

Maybe I should be tracking these candidates down and asking them...

Analogy for the dropped G20 charges

Some people have said the fact that the G20 charges were dropped means that everything's fine, the system is working like it's supposed to. But the problem is that the people in question were still arrested, detained, and subject to bail conditions (some of which could seriously inconvenience a person or hinder their ability to live life normally) for four months.

Here's an analogy to explain why that's a problem:

Suppose you are abducted. You're blindfolded, tied up, taken somewhere far, far away, and locked in a basement. After a few days you manage to escape, but you find that you're in another part of the world where you don't speak the language. You can't even read enough of their alphabet to tell where in the world you are. You have no money, no resources, no language in common with the people around you, and look (and probably smell) scruffy and questionable after several days locked in a basement. You have to survive and evade your captors and make your way home, all without money or the ability to communicate or the general social credibility that comes from being clean and neatly dressed. So on top of the fact that you need to convince someone to give you money or let you use their phone or pick you up while hitchhiking with the hindrances of looking scruffy and not being able to communicate, you also have to worry about what's going on at home. You haven't been at work for a while. Do you still have a job? Rent was due the other day. Have you been evicted? Did someone pick up the baby at daycare? Is someone feeding your cat?

It takes weeks and weeks and weeks, but you finally get home. And you want justice for all that you've suffered! Now imagine if someone says, in response to your cry for justice, "What? You're home now, everything's fine."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Entitlement update

I can't quite seem to muster up a proper blog entry today, so I thought I'd update you on how my Entitlement is going. (If you're just tuning in, here's what I mean by Entitlement with a capital E in the context of this blog, and here's why it's so important.)

The most interesting thing is the extent to which being aware of Entitlement - what it is, why it's important, how it helps, being able to recognize it in others - makes it easier to do. I'd say in this case knowing is about 80% of the battle. My Entitlement behaviour increased sharply the moment I realized this was a thing I needed to start doing. It's quite surprising. Usually changing my own behaviour is an epic struggle against my very nature, and changing my own thought patterns is completely outside my control. But with Entitlement, just reading an explanation with examples that I was able to independently relate to real-life examples of behaviours and characteristics I admire in others was enough to make me...just start doing it, to a certain extent. I think I owe Malcolm Gladwell huge.

As an added bonus, the concept of Entitlement came into my life around the same time as I started facing some increased responsibilities at work. So I'm in a situation where I have to act with Entitlement, because otherwise stuff isn't going to get done. This has made me less deferential and more casual in my dealings with external people, which, oddly, gets better results.

One weird thing is whenever I try to explain the concept of Entitlement to someone verbally, they always confuse it with the generic - and this despite the fact that I always start my explanation with "not entitlement in the normal general sense of the word, but it's rather this very specific concept meaning..." I did manage to explain to my boss what I was doing by describing it as an attempt to be more pro-active because I'm naturally disinclined to be pro-active, and that was effective and has helped smooth out any rough edges resulting from the fact that I'm doing what should be basic social skills on an experimental basis. I think that's how I'm going to explain it to other people in the future if it becomes necessary.

I also just realized something awesome. In my awful making-an-ass-of-myself-in-front-of-Eddie moment (for which I'm still kicking myself), I was looking him in the eye and talking to him!! Yes, I was talking stupidly, doing far worse than someone my age should be able to do, reflecting poorly on our whole group and perhaps our whole city, but eye contact and reasonably articulate speech! I was literally incapable of that 18 months ago. I could not have maintained (and perhaps not even made) eye contact, and I would have been showing anxiety rather than fangirl giddiness. But now, not only have I done eye contact and talking, but I'm 100% certain I could do it again and better (even if not yet objectively well) in the future, even though I'm now carrying this having-made-an-ass-of-myself baggage. And it wouldn't be a massive effort. There would be nerves, of course, but the eye contact and talking would just be part of the natural way things turn out. Take THAT, middle-school bullies!

Of course, it's not going perfectly. I still fail to show Entitlement an average of twice a day - it's still extremely easy to just not do it in areas of life that are invisible to others. (If I don't email that client about that one thing, people at work will notice. If I don't make an appointment for a beauty treatment, it's inconsequential.) I'm still getting stupidly nervous about stupid things at stupid times. I'm still not 100% sure of the doctor situation. (I could handle it if I had some genuine illness, but I'm not there yet for something as elective and emotionally loaded as sterilization.) But, so far, my baseline for Entitlement behaviour seems to have very easily risen significantly higher. We'll see what happens next.

Wherein Eddie Izzard explains you what I've learned from him

The most important of the many many things I've learned from Eddie Izzard is how to be brave and confident by admitting your shortcomings upfront. This is something I've just absorbed from watching him, and I haven't been able to articulate to others precisely how or why it works, or why exactly watching Eddie leads me to learn this lesson.

Fortunately, Eddie can articulate it himself:

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Journalism wanted

This article intrigues me, because it might possibly explain some cognitive dissonance I've been experiencing.

When the NDP won government in Ontario exactly 20 years ago, it constituted the greatest advance for social democracy in North American history.

It’s true that British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had all elected NDP governments and that progressives had won small victories in various parts of the United States. But none of them (I hope this doesn’t hurt their feelings) mattered in the same way Ontario then did. It was the economic heartland of Canada, the home of much of Canada's industry and finance. What happened in Ontario impacted all Canadians. Now it was under the control of Bob Rae and the New Democrats.

Reflecting this reality, within months Mr. Rae's government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history.

The attacks came from all sides. It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Launched within the very first year of the new government, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords and lobbying/government relations firms. Their goal was clear, and they had the money and power to achieve it.

They were determined to undermine the government every step of the way, to frustrate the implementation of its plans and to assure its ultimate defeat. In all three goals they were successful. The considerable achievements of the government – often forgotten or dismissed –were wrought in the face of a deep recession and ferocious obstruction.

Bob Rae became Premier of Ontario when I was 9 years old (1990) and completely politically unaware. He was in power until I was 14 (1995), at which point I had some degree of political awareness. (My 14-year-old self could have convinced someone who believed their own political awareness was above average that she had as much political awareness as the average citizen.) I read newspapers, although I couldn't always completely follow all the complex political stories. I heard opinions from the adults around me. I didn't routinely seek out multiple mainstream and alternative media opinions on issues, but I think this was typical of the time before the internet.

The major barrier to my being able to assess Rae's performance is that he was the first Premier of Ontario I remember so I had no basis for comparison, but I clearly remember (or, at least, am as certain as I can possibly be that I clearly remember) general public sentiment at the time, and general public sentiment is that it was a Really Bad Government. Every political action that I heard of the Rae government taking at the time was met with "This is a terrible idea because of X, Y, and Z."

However, when I go back and read over the Rae government's policies presented as history, they don't seem anywhere near as bad as the public sentiment I remember at the time made them out to be. This has been flummoxing me for quite a while and I've been thinking hard about it. Is there some aspect that's missing from the historical accounts I've read (which, as far as I can tell, are neutral and factual)? Were the adults around me and the headline/lede/general gist of the newspaper articles misinformed or misinforming me?

If what this article is true, that explains everything. It would also be hella terrifying. So I would very much like to know either way if the article is true.

The problem is that the author has a perceived conflict of interest, in that he has been an organizer and candidate for the NDP. I know nothing about the author as an individual and have no specific reasons to doubt his credibility, but his CV suggests partisanship.

I'd very much like to see this article painstakingly fact-checked by someone who is by all standards politically neutral, to the extent that everything is true is footnoted with names and dates. I'm in no way blaming the author for not footnoting - I totally understand it's well beyond the scope and word count of a Globe and Mail article - but we the people need to know with certainty what the truth is.

If this article is true, it sounds like people - some of whom are very loud, some of whom are very influential - are going to denounce it, and basis for that denunciation is going to be that the author is thought of as partisan. And, interestingly, if the article is false, it will produce exactly the same reaction from exactly the same quarters. We need irreproachable, independent verification.

Une nouvelle révolution tranquille?

The following is from La langue et le nombril, Chantal Bouchard's fascinating sociolinguistic history of Quebec. The typos, which are undoubtedly legion, are my own:

Septembre 1959. Le premier ministre du Québec, Maurice Duplessis, meurt brutalement des suites d'un attaque ardiaque au cours d'un voyage à Sherfferville. Dans une allocation retransmise à la radio à l'occasion de sa nomination, son successeur, Paul Sauvé, ouvre son discours par le mot: "Désormais..."

Le nouveau premier ministre n'était d'évidence pas le seul à avoir ressenti les dernières années du règne de Maurice Duplessis comme un frein, un blocage qui retardaient l'évolution d'une société en pleine ébullition. La génération montante de jeunes gens plus instruits acceptait de plus en plus difficilement le caractère ultra-conservateur du gouvernment du Québec qui, par ses alliances avec le clergé, d'un part, et la grande industrie anglo-canadienne de l'autre, tentait de perpétuer une structure sociale devenue inadéquate et où les jeunes gens ne trouvaient pas leur place.

Rather reminds me of certain aspects of today's political environment.

Il en allait de même dans le monde ouvrier qui, cherchant à s'organiser, se heurtait à un pouvoir politique répressif. C'est ainsi qu'à l'occasion des grandes grèves de cette époque, de jeunes intellectuels et des ouvriers s'allièrent contre un ordre public devenu intolérable.

Wouldn't that be fun?

Song of the day

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Choosing female titles in English

Lately I've had a number of different people have a number of different kinds of confusion over which female title to choose when writing in English, so I thought I'd put together a bit of a primer.

Please note that, in all cases, no matter what other factors are in play, the stated preference of the individual being referred to takes precedence over any and all other considerations.

Ms. is the English generic, and as a general rule you should only use Mrs. or Miss if you know the person being referred to prefers that form of address.

However, people who are, for whatever reason, naturally disinclined to use Ms. usually aren't comfortable with that guideline. I've found some people's visceral response to my instruction to use Ms. is "Yeah, but..." So here are some more ways of thinking about it to determine if that "Yeah, but..." is founded.

Do you want to use Mrs.? Is the subject married? If so, is the surname with which you want to use Mrs. her husband's surname? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you must not use Mrs. Technically, Mrs. means "wife of" and is used with the subject's husband's name. It is technically incorrect to use it with a surname other than the subject's husband's, so you may not refer to anyone as Mrs. Maidenname. Divorced women may correctly choose to use Mrs. with their ex-husband's surname, but there's too much potential for offence in calling someone who isn't married "Mrs." unless you know her preferences. Women who have a wife rather than a husband may also correctly choose use Mrs. with their wife's surname, but, again, there's too much potential for offence in introducing such patriarchal connotations unless you know her preferences.

Note that Ms. does not imply unmarriedness. It does not presume to comment on marital status.

Do you want to use Miss? Traditionally, Miss means unmarried, but it also has negative connotations for many people. It can be insulting to young women who want to be seen as mature and grown-up, and it can be insulting to older women who don't want to be thought of as spinsters. The most effective way to explain the precise flavour of the negative connotations is to think of Miss as an accusation of virginity. (Yes, this example is in poor taste, but it's by far the most effective way to explain the negative connotations to someone who doesn't grok them.) When you find yourself reaching for Miss, ask yourself: do you think the subject would want people to think that she's a virgin (regardless of whether she actually is)? If you were in her position, would you want people to think of you as a virgin? If the answer is no, you must not use Miss. So if the subject is 12 years old, Miss is probably okay. If she's 30 years old, it would probably be a diss. If she's 18 years old, it would be rather condescending.

Note that Ms. does not imply non-virginity. It does not presume to comment on personal history.

If you're going to get it wrong, Ms. is the best way to get it wrong. Calling a woman Ms. when she prefers something else is like calling a man Mr. when he prefers something else. If it's a mistake, it's a perfectly understandable mistake. For example, suppose you meet a man you know nothing about except that his name is John Smith. So you address him as "Mr. Smith." No problems there. But it turns out Mr. Smith is actually in the military, and is properly addressed as Col. Smith. That's fine, and you'll use it in the future. But you had no way of knowing that going in, so your use of Mr. was perfectly understandable. However, suppose when you meet Col. Smith he's wearing his uniform so you can see he's in the military. But you don't know your rank insignia very well, so you end up calling him Sgt. Smith. That would be a huge diss! Or suppose you remember that he doesn't go by Mr. but don't remember what it is he does, so you take a guess and call him Dr. Smith. That would just be weird! Unless you're absolutely certain of what his actual title is, Mr. is the best way to get it wrong. Similarly, Ms. is the best way to get it wrong.

Pour les francophones: Oui, le titre féminin utilisé par défaut en français est Madame. Mais Madame, dans le sens du titre défaut, ne se traduit pas par Mrs.! Mrs. est manifestement incorrect si la personne en question n'est pas mariée ou n'utilise pas le nom de famille de son mari. Le titre défaut féminin en anglais doit être Ms.

When translating from French to English: Always always always translate Madame/Mme. as Ms., unless you specifically know the subject prefers something else.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Things They Should Study: do countries' political positions correlate with the strength of their economies?

Quick, name a European country that's having economic problems. Just keep the name of that country in mind when you click the link further down in this post.

A while back, I was pondering the fact that when we hear about European economic problems, we never hear about Scandinavian countries. We keep seeing articles about how this economic crisis shows that the European socialist model is unsustainable, but Scandinavia, which is generally considered the epitome of European socialism, is never mentioned.

Now think of the countries that are mentioned in conjunction with the economic crisis, like the country that you thought of at the beginning of this post.

Now click here to see where European governments fall on the political compass.

At first glance there seems to be a correlation, doesn't there?

I don't have the economic or political knowledge to conduct a proper analysis and determine definitively if there is in fact a correlation. But it would be really interesting if someone who does have the knowledge could do this.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Things They Should Invent Words For

We need a word for when a government policy doesn't work quite as well as it's intended to, so then, instead of calling for it to be improved, people call for another policy that does the exact opposite.

For example, suppose the government has a "Free widgets for all!" policy that receives wide popular support. But it doesn't work as well as planned. There are delays in distributing the widgets, some people don't get the widgets that are due to them, some of the widgets go missing, etc. So then, next election cycle, people suddenly start calling for widgets to be banned.

That doesn't make sense, does it? Widgets are still good and important insofar as they were ever good and important. The people who didn't get widgets still need widgets. The people who did get widgets still use their widgets. Banning widgets will in no way solve the problems caused by inadequate widget distribution.

And yet, all too often, politics plays out this way. We need a name for this phenomenon.

How does ignorance affect your voting habits?

Yesterday I was playing with a British website from their last election called Vote For Policies. It shows you different parties' platforms on different issues without telling you which platform belongs to which party. You pick your favourite platform for each issue, and then at the end it tells you which parties you've picked. Brilliant idea! I want someone to make something like that for Canada (and ideally for the upcoming Toronto election!)

But what was most interesting about this for me is the effect of my own ignorance on the platforms I chose. I don't know a whole lot about UK politics. The site provided six different platforms, but I could only name four UK political parties going in. I'm certainly not familiar enough with the parties to recognize from their language which platform belongs to whom. (I could sometimes recognize from language choices whether a particular statement was left-wing or right-wing, and I could see some patterns as I went through the quiz, so after I while I could say "This statement I'm reading now was made by the same party that I chose for the last issue", but I couldn't determine that a particular statement originated from the Labour party or whatever.) I'm also rather ignorant of the specific details of political issues in the UK. I couldn't even tell what apparent problem some platform items were meant to address, like at all.

But, at the same time, I'm not 100% ignorant. The UK political system is analogous to ours. (The parties even have the decency to use the same colours!) I can read words and understand things, and many issues are generally universal - money is finite, the economy's a shambles, people need health care, people need jobs, Kids Today are a disgrace. I'm sure I could convince a British person that I'm about as informed as the average citizen if I really had to. (This wouldn't be true, but I could convince someone, especially if they themselves believe that they're more informed than the average citizen.)

So here's where it gets interesting. My results were absolutely linear: the more ignorant I was about an issue, the more right-wing a platform I chose; the more informed I was about an issue, the more left-wing a platform I chose. Absolutely linear, no exceptions, no outliers. It's not the parties I picked that's so interesting, it's how my ignorance affected my choices! This is very informative and incredibly helpful to be aware of.

If you're about as ignorant as me of UK politics, I highly recommend taking the quiz yourself and seeing if any patterns emerge. I find it extremely valuable to know how my own ignorance affects my choices. Maybe you will too.

Friday, October 01, 2010


A number of times, I've had sales people be very uncomfortably pushy about trying to sell me warranties or protection plans, so I developed a strategy. I tell them that my parents always told me never to pay more than 10% of the purchase price for the protection plan, so if the item fails I'll make my parents replace it for me. None of that is actually true, but it has always worked. I mean, you can't exactly argue with it, can you?

Today the sales guy bested me. When I pulled out the 10% number, he immediately and without missing a beat reduced the price of the warranty down to 10%. So I bought it. I mean, I couldn't exactly argue with him, could I?

Well done to you, sir!

The secret to unhappiness

The secret to unhappiness is wanting other people to feel specific things in specific situations.

This idea originated from this Miss Conduct column. The letter-writer wants her friend to eat and enjoy her food. She wants a specific action and a specific response to that action. Then she's having all kinds of angst because Friend isn't eating her food, or because Friend is eating and enjoying other food. If LW would content herself with everyone enjoying themselves at the get-together, she'd be happy. But because she wants Friend to do something very specific and feel something very specific in response to it, she's unhappy.

Then I saw this Anthony Wolf column. He wants kids to be interested and engaged in non-electronic experiences. The fact that the kid is interested and engaged in a youtube video doesn't make him happy. If the kid were to go mountain-biking and not be interested or engaged, that wouldn't make him happy.

I think people who find themselves wanting others to feel specific things under specific circumstances need to take a step back and ask themselves: do you want the other person to do that particular thing, or do you want them to feel that particular feeling? If you want them to do the thing, give them the opportunity to do the thing and accept that they will experience it in their own way. If you want them to feel the feeling, look for things that will actually make them feel the feeling, not things you think should make them feel the feeling. Otherwise, you'll never be happy.