Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wherein the Toronto Star makes me ashamed to read it

I was shocked, ashamed, and rather disgusted to see this article in the Toronto Star, where reporters staked out public figures' homes to see if they were participating in Earth Hour.

First of all, Earth Hour is arbitrary and symbolic. No one is hurting anything by failing to participate. (Yes, they are using a normal hour's worth of electricity. Our infrastructure can handle that, and that's within the scope of perfectly normal and customary human behaviour in our society.)

Second, all the people they were picking on were quietly sitting at home minding their own business. As I've blogged about before, the big problem with Earth Hour is that anyone who chooses to quietly sit out and go about their own business in the privacy of their own home is lit up like a beacon. That, in and of itself, is reason enough to question the ritual.

Third, the public figures whose homes they were visiting have not to my knowledge, within reach of my google-fu, or in any way cited in the article endorsed Earth Hour. Instead, they're people the Star thinks should be endorsing Earth Hour. This isn't a story of hypocrisy or anything, at best it's a story of quietly opting out.

Fourth, the public figures weren't even home! The people in the homes were their families (in at least some cases their minor children), who are private citizens and thereby fully entitled to sit quietly at home without participating in the public events of the day.

But, most crucially, this is the Toronto Star. It's a Toronto newspaper and it's a broadsheet newspaper, and by printing this story it has egregiously failed in its mandate as both. If we wanted busybodies constantly judging and shaming us for not living up to their arbitrary standards, we wouldn't have moved to the city. If we wanted sensationalized pearl-clutching finger-pointing, we'd be reading the Sun.

If their goal was to make their readers ashamed to be seen with a copy of the Star, they have succeeded.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rerun: Deciding where to vote (for students)

The substance of this post is a rerun from 2005.

University students can often swing it so they can vote either in the riding where they're going to school, or in the riding where they grew up/where their parents live/where their "permanent address" is.

Since this election's advance polls are in April (when most people are still at school) and election day itself is in May (when many students are back at their parents', or gone elsewhere for summer jobs) I've decided to post this early so you can decide where to vote and make plans accordingly.


Where to Vote:

1. If one of the ridings is a really close race, vote in that riding. If both are close, vote in the riding with the closest race. If neither is really close, follow the instructions below.

2. Of the parties running candidates in your riding, decide which one has the best platform that comes closest to meeting your needs and your vision of the country (hereafter the Best Party). Then decide which one has the worst platform that is furthest from meeting your needs and deviates the most from your vision of the country (hereafter the Worst Party). You are judging the parties as a whole, not the individual candidates in your riding. Assess each party individually without regard to possible strategic voting - that comes later.

3. Based on your own needs and your own vision for the country, decide whether it is more important to you that the Best Party win, or that the Worst Party does not win.

4. If it's more important to you that the Best Party win, vote for the Best Party in the riding where the Best Party is least likely to win.

5. If it's more important to you that the Worst Party not win, and the Worst Party has a chance in either of your ridings, vote for the party most likely to defeat the Worst Party in the riding where the Worst Party is most likely to win.

6. If the Worst Party doesn't have a chance in either of your ridings, vote for the Best Party in the riding where the Best Party is least likely to win.


To determine which party is most likely to win in which riding, check out the Election Prediction Project and DemocraticSPACE. More resources will likely become available as the election progresses. I'm going to be making a Voters' Resources post closer to election day, I just wanted to get this up early so people can make plans.

Update: I'm now collecting links to riding predictors here.


From Elections Canada:

- Your options for different voting methods (election day, advance polls, special ballot
- How to register to vote in your preferred riding.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to make corporate tax breaks create jobs

I previously blogged a rather complex idea to make corporate taxes support social services, with the ultimate goal of encouraging job creation.

I think I've come up with a simpler solution: make payroll a tax deduction. All money that companies pay to their employees in pay and benefits is deducted from their taxable revenues. If a company has $10 million revenues and pays $5 million in payroll, they're only taxed on the remaining $5 million.

Further idea but more complex: different tax rates for employers with different employment conditions. Employers that pay less, have fewer benefits, use a greater percentage of contract workers etc. have to pay a higher tax rate, and companies that provide more stable employment get a lower tax rate. Perhaps there could be a grace period of several years for new businesses just starting out, because obviously you can't provide a pension plan when you're two people working out of a garage. I think small businesses could also use the loophole of the owner drawing as a salary any profits the business makes.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why polls are stupid

I'm really surprised what a big deal the media makes of polls, because they're very nearly irrelevant. The percentage of people who would vote for a specific party doesn't directly affect the number of seats that party gets. What's important is the distribution of those people among different ridings. Because the person with the most votes in each riding gets that seat, and the party with the most seats gets first dibs at forming a government.


There are 308 ridings in Canada. For mathematical simplicity, let's say there are 100,000 voters in each riding, and 100% voter turnout.

The Purple Party gets 51% of the votes in 155 (or just over half) of the ridings.
So the Purple Party received 7,905,000, and holds 155 of the 308 seats in Parliament, thus forming a majority government.

Meanwhile, the Yellow Party receives 100% of the votes in 100 (or just under one third) of ridings. 100*100,000=10,000,000
So the Yellow Party received 10,000,000 votes, but holds only 100 of the 308 seats in Parliament. The Purple Party still gets to form the government.

However, polls would have shown the Purple Party polling at about 25%, and the Yellow Party polling at about 32%.

I chose these numbers for mathematical simplicity, but there's room for a lot of variations in between. For example, because we have at least four parties running in each riding (and often more), the Purple Party could easily have won with something like 35% of the vote in 155 ridings, which would only show up as about 18% in a poll. There are entirely too many variables.

To be effective, polls would have to poll each riding. Which would be hella useful for people considering a strategic vote! But as it stands, polls of the country as a whole are uninformative. Please stop reporting on them as though they were useful!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More information please: are suspended police officers allowed to take other work?

They want to stop paying police officers who are suspended.

One important question I haven't seen addressed anywhere: are suspended police officers allowed to take on other work?

Things I know that lead me to wonder this: some employers prohibit their employees from taking on other work, or restrict or vet the work the employees can take on. This most often happen in positions of public trust and responsibility, in public sector positions, and where there is potential for conflict of interest. Police officers fall in all three categories. I have no idea if there are restrictions on outside employment, but it certainly seems plausible.

If suspended police officers are not allowed to take on outside work, or if the restrictions or approval process for such employment make it impracticable, then it isn't appropriate to suspend them without pay before they've been found guilty. I fully and vocally support getting risky officers off the street, but we don't want them (or their dependents) to starve to death or lose their homes!

And it's possible that, in borderline cases, the grave threat to the officer's and their family's security and quality of life posed by a suspension without pay would lead the powers that be to choose not to suspend them. If you know that a certain officer just bought a house and has a baby on the way, and you can maybe get away with not suspending them, you might choose not so as not to imperil a young family at a vulnerable time. Whereas if they're suspended with pay, they're off the streets where they can't hurt anyone until the situation is resolved.

Another question this article raises:

Every year in Ontario about 50 police officers are suspended with pay. The current rules allow officers to collect full salaries while under suspension, an expense that adds up to about $5 million annually.

That's $100,000 per suspended officer. That seems high. How much do police officers get paid, and how long does the typical suspension last?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The problem with making an It Gets Better book

When I read that they're making an It Gets Better book, I had a visceral negative reaction. At first I thought this was because I don't like the idea of making money from It Gets Better. But, upon further reflection, I think it's more complicated than that.

The internet already contains all the It Gets Better stories, and will continue to contain any new stories that people come up with. However, a book will only contain some of them. A book also costs money, whereas we're paying for the internet regardless so it doesn't cost anything to look at It Gets Better online. So with the book you have to pay more to get less.

But on top of that, there's also the problem that a book is indiscreet. In an interview, Dan Savage told the story of a 15-year-old girl, closeted from her parents, watching It Gets Better videos on a borrowed iphone under the covers at night. A book would be less useful to that girl. The iphone she can turn off, or quickly switch over to facebook or something. But a book is right there, rather large, with a title. Meddling parents are likely going to find it. My parents let me read whatever I want, but they still knew what I was reading. And I knew (or could easily find out) what they were reading. Books are far more difficult to hide, so they're less useful to the people who need It Gets Better the most.

Now, I do think it's useful to curate It Gets Better. And I do actually think text is a better format than video. A text-only website is even easier to read discreetly, and if your internet time is limited or monitored you could easily copy-paste stories to read elsewhere. Save them on a USB key with a name like "English Essay Notes.doc", or save them as text files and read them with an ebook reader app on your ipod touch. But this would be better achieved with a website that allows people to submit their stories and readers to vote them up or down, similar to Not Always Right, would do the job better.

Basically, the book format adds nothing but a price tag, and does nothing to help the people for whom it hasn't get Gotten Better. I can see how some marketing guru whose job is to look for the next big internet phenomenon to turn into a book would land on this idea, but as a former member of the target audience of this project, it just seems crass to me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weird jobs and royal nuptials

This is old, but I love this moment. Lady Gaga meets the Queen:

It's interesting to me because what we have here is two people with very different, very weird jobs. Both of their jobs involve very deliberately attracting certain types of publicity and drawing crowds wherever they go. Both of their jobs dictate how they dress whenever they go out in public. The Queen has to fulfill ceremonial roles; Lady Gaga has to write and perform catchy pop songs. The Queen wears that particular hairstyle to accommodate hats and crowns, and wears colourful clothes to people can see her. Apparently her hemlines were once decided by committee, and they sew weights into the hems of her skirts so she doesn't have a Marilyn Monroe moment. Lady Gaga has to wear things that are more outrageous than whatever she wore last, and no doubt her diet, exercise regimen, and beauty routine are dictated by costuming requirements. Both of them also have to make their audience feel good. The Queen is known for making people feel like she's genuinely interested in them, and a key part of Lady Gaga's public persona is that she loves every one of her little monsters, no matter how much of a freak or geek the rest of the world thinks they are. I find all of this fascinating, and am intrigued by any glimpse into the everyday life of the individuals behind these public personas.

And this is why it surprises me that so much media coverage of the upcoming royal wedding has been spinning it as a fairytale romance. Because it's so much more interesting if we think about it as a pragmatic arrangement! Prince William has a weird job, part of which requires that he marry a non-Catholic woman and have at least one biological child with her. He knows this is a job requirement, and so does everyone he comes in contact with, including any prospective bride. By the conventions that currently govern British royalty, their relationship, their careers, their religion, their fashion choices, and their family planning are considered in the public interest. What's that like? What's it like to embark upon a marriage knowing that it means you'll have to be publicly charming for the rest of your life? What's it like to know your firstborn child's will never be their own? Isn't this all interesting? Isn't it far more interesting than a simple love story?

The whole fairytale romance thing was debunked with the previous generation of royals, and it does everyone a disservice to maintain that mythology. The idea of a couple of modern, educated twenty-somethings whose lives are dictated by this bizarre job they have to do with antiquated conditions is far more interesting. Why not focus on that?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What to do when your pre-teen daughter wants to remove her body hair

There was recently a letter in the Globe and Mail's Ask A Pediatrician column from a parent whose 8-year-old daughter wants to start shaving her legs. As a former hairy 8-year-old myself, I felt compelled to respond.

Short version for busy parents: Anyone who has body hair is old enough to remove said body hair. In my personal experience, a No!No! is the best hair removal method for beginners. For more information on how I arrived at this reasoning, keep reading.

My credentials

You're probably thinking "You don't have kids, what do you know?" What I know is what it's like to be a hairy little girl. I have more body hair than most women, and started puberty earlier than most people. I seem to remember more clearly than most people what I thought and felt as a child, and I can now articulate those feelings with adult vocabulary and nuance, and without feeling the need to hide or sugarcoat anything like a younger girl might out of awkwardness or shame. I also have 20 years' experience managing my body hair, and have tried literally every home hair removal method currently in existence.

When you should let your daughter start removing her body hair

Short answer: as soon as she has body hair that she'd like to remove.

Your first thought is probably "But she's too young!" But when it comes to taking care of our bodies, we have to work with what our bodies are actually doing, not what they theoretically should be doing. If your daughter started menstruating, you'd provide her with feminine hygiene products and make sure she knows where babies come from. If she began developing breasts, you'd provide her with the foundational garments she needs to maintain her comfort and modesty. If she started having strange vaginal discharge, you'd get her gynecological care.

In fact, her young age makes having prominent body hair even worse, because she and her peers aren't accustomed to this, and might not even know that it's normal. (One of the greatest humiliations of my life was being the only person, male or female, with hairy armpits at the Grade 5 pool party. Neither I nor any of my classmates knew at the time that hairy armpits were a normal part of puberty. It took until adulthood for my self-esteem to recover.) She's likely the hairiest person in her class, male or female. If her mother removes her body hair, and if her sisters are either young enough that they don't have prominent body hair or old enough that they remove their own body hair, then your daughter probably thinks she's the only person in the world who has this very visible, very humiliating problem. Her self-concept will be defined by it. And, because for her entire hairy life she has not been permitted to remove her body hair, she cannot help but to feel like she will have to spend the rest of her whole life experiencing this humiliation.

However, being able to remove your body hair gives you control over this. You aren't sentenced to be the ugliest person in the room any more. You are no longer defined by your hair. You once again have control and sovereignty over your body and can look as feminine as you feel. I am telling you from my firsthand experience as a hairy girl, it is outright empowering!

Because your daughter specifically asked you about shaving, we know that she is bothered by her body hair and that she knows you can provide her with a solution. If you do provide her with a solution, she will learn that if she goes to you with questions or concerns about her changing body, you will give her solutions that make her feel empowered. However, if you tell her that she's too young, she will feel even more ashamed of her body hair, as though she's being bad just by being hairy at too young an age. The shame compounds: she feels ashamed because she has ugly masculine hair, and she ashamed at having hair at an age you consider too young, and she feels ashamed at wanting to remove the hair when you think she's too young. Again, these bad feelings are even worse for especially young kids, because they still want to Be Good rather than rebelling against their parents. You can save her from this shame spiral and reward her for coming to you with her concerns about her changing body simply by providing her with the solution she came to you for, which what any good parent does when their kid comes to them with any problem.

While it is normal for a younger kid to go to their parents for permission to do something to or with their own body (and such permission is often also logistically necessary), we all know that it's really a question of sovereignty over one's own body. Denying her this sovereignty will introduce the idea that it's normal for authority figures to overrule her sovereignty over her own body. Do you want to take that risk? Then, as she gets older and starts thinking about it, she'll extrapolate that your rules are arbitrary and lack credibility, and will proceed to do whatever she wants without consulting you.

In summary, letting your kids remove their body hair as soon as they want to will increase their self esteem, empower them, assert their sovereignty over their own body, increase your credibility in their eyes, and teach them that coming to you with any concerns they might have about their changing bodies gets good results. Not allowing them to remove their body hair has the opposite effect.

At this point, you're still thinking "But what if she hurts herself with a razor or hot wax? And I don't want her to have to commit to a beauty routine for the rest of her life, not at such a young age!" That brings me to...

Why I recommend the No!No!

If you clicked on the link above, you're probably thinking that the No!No! looks expensive and infomercially. It is a bit pricier than parents normally spend on pre-teens (although you can often get deals on ebay) but it does do the job. Here's why I like it, and why I think it's especially suitable for particularly young users:

1. The No!No! is safe. It's impossible to injure yourself with it. The only harm can come from if you get loose skin caught in it, and the one time I did this (I ran it over my elbow with my arm straightened instead of bent, so the skin wasn't anywhere near taut) I got a red line on my skin that disappeared the next day. No blood, no pain, no scar, just a red line. It's contraindicated for genitals and breasts, but can be used on the rest of the body, including the face.

2. The No!No! is easy. It's just as fast as shaving, but without any of the mess. You don't even need to be in the bathroom to do it. (I do mine in my bedroom - no water required!) Even in cases where it doesn't get every single hair, you always finish with fewer hairs than you started with. It's never a frustrating waste of time.

3. The No!No! is painless. It doesn't pull the hairs out, it zaps them in place. You feel a slightly warm thing passing over your skin, and that's all.

4. The No!No! can be used on all types of hair. It works on stubble and on longer hairs. You don't have to wait for the hair to grow to a certain length like you do with many epilatory methods. You can do it every day or once a week. It doesn't work on full-length pubic hair (you need to trim it down first, and it is contraindicated for the genitals anyway, although it's okay for the outer bikini line), and I, personally, struggle to make it work for armpit stubble (have never tried it on virgin armpit hair), although I struggle with all epilatory methods on my armpits because the layout of my breasts makes it difficult to get the skin taut. People with smaller breasts who carry less towards the outside tend not to have this problem, although I don't have any testimonials specific to the No! No! It does work on my leg stubble, as well as on regrown waxed hair and virgin arm and face hair.

5. You can stop using the No!No! whenever you want without any unpleasant regrowth phase. This is the reason why I so strongly recommend it for younger users specifically. Hair removed with a No! No! doesn't grow back as stubble. It isn't prickly. It doesn't get all ingrowny. It simply grows back as a kinder, gentler version of your own hair. Not every single follicle regrows, some regrow more slowly, some regrow finer or paler. Virgin hair (i.e. hair that has never been removed before) regrows looking even more virgin. I have used it on my forearms and on my face (mustache, sideburns, chin whiskers), and I have gone up to a month in between treatments. Apart from the fact that each day I have marginally more hair there than the day before, it doesn't look at all like hair regrowth.

When I was a hairy preteen, I alternated between wanting to remove my ugly body hair, and resenting the fact that I had to keep removing my ugly body hair. But if I stopped, I'd get stubbly and itchy. The No! No! eliminates this dilemma. Your daughter can remove her hair every day in the summer and stop in the winter. She can remove her hair once and then decide it's not worth the trouble, and then revisit it a year later. She can remove her hair only for special occasions. She can experiment with removing hair from another area of her body without any drama.

In summary, the No!No! addresses every concern a parent might have about a pre-teen removing their body hair. It's possible you might have to supplement with a razor for armpits, tweezers for eyebrows, or clippers for longer (i.e. longer than an inch or two) hair, but I highly recommend the No!No! as the best starting point.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wherein my late grandfather predicted the current state of Canadian politics over 50 years ago

One of my grandmother's treasured possessions back in the old country was her family crest from her family of origin. It had been handed down for generations since before memory. You see, my grandparents lived in an area of what is now Poland that had, for as long as anyone could remember, been passed back and forth from one oppressor to another, and the family crest reminded them of where they really came from and who they really were, regardless of who the occupying force of the day was.

I was recently trying to google up a picture of the family crest so we could make a new one for my grandmother to put on her wall, and I stumbled upon an interesting factoid. It seems that the presence of a family crest likely means that we are the descendants of szlachta, a long-defunct type of nobility. Our noble ancestors would have been deposed in the late 18th century by the conquering empire of the day, but if we could just figure out how to trace our genealogy back another 100 years past where we've got it now, we'll likely turn up noble lineage dating back as early as the 1300s. Kind of cool, although obviously doesn't apply to us any more after generations of war and oppression. My grandparents were raised on farms and worked in factories to support their children, my parents were the first generation in living memory to scramble their way up to white collar, and my generation is hanging onto that white collar by our fingernails.

When my grandparents decided to pack up their worldly possessions and get on a boat for Canada, my grandfather insisted that my grandmother had to leave the family crest behind. For reasons that none of us understood, he thought that having the crest among their possessions might be frowned upon, or even get them turned out of Canada.

My grandfather passed away nearly 12 years ago. But it turns out he was a very prescient man.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Teach me how to edit my blog template

This template I'm using is several years old, but I haven't been able to find a newer one I like. (Recommendations are welcome in the comments.) In the meantime, I'd like to make the centre column (the beige/tan bit where all the actual content is) wider, ideally a percentage of the browser width rather than fixed pixel width to accommodate a variety of resolutions.

If this is within your skill set, could you have a look at my source code and see which values I need to change?

I've already been playing around with the template code and edited anything that looks promising, but it all made matters worse. Ideas?

In my ongoing tradition of substituting youtubes for proper blog posts...

Overtime plus time change are kicking my ass, so this weekend's basically going to have to be a write-off. Which is unfortunate, because I have some important things that I want to get blogged.

So here's Bruce Springsteen covering Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

More information please: who would donate money to an organization's golf tournament, and why?

In an interview from Monday's Metro Morning on the ethics of spending money for employee morale in public organization.

At about 5:00, the guest, a forensic auditor, said that golf may or may not be an appropriate expense, but manicures certainly wouldn't, in response to which the host replied that it's interesting that golf might be considered an appropriate expense, but manicures wouldn't. In reply to this, the guest said:

"The chances of getting external money for a golf tournament are much higher." He then went on to describe the external money as "donations and so on."

The interview ended shortly thereafter and they didn't get into any details, so I'm left wondering: Who would donate money so a public organization could have an employee golf tournament? What would their motivations be in doing this? Under what circumstances would it not be a conflict of interest for a public organization to accept such a donation? (My understanding is that the scope of what constitutes a conflict of interest in the public sector is rather broad.) And why would they be moved to donate for a golf tournament but not for manicures?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Things They Should Invent: let tenants bill unresponsive landlords for maintenance

This idea originated as a solution to the maintenance problems reported at TCHC, but I think it could be useful for all tenants.

If the landlord does not respond to or resolve maintenance requests within a certain legislated period of time, the tenant has the right to hire someone to fix it and send the bill to the landlord.

The required period of time can vary depending on the severity of the issue. Urgent issues like infestation, lack of heat, lack of water, or threats to the tenant's safety would have tighter deadlines than smaller issues.

There would be two deadlines the landlord has to meet: response and resolution. Response is when someone comes and looks at it. If it's something that can be fixed easily, they would do so right away. (For example, last time I asked my super for help was because a lightbulb had burned out in a complicated lighting fixture and I couldn't figure out how to get it out. That would only require one visit, and would (obviously) fall under the non-urgent deadline.) If the problem is more complicated and they need to call in outside help or order outside parts, they'd have until the resolution deadline to solve it. The resolution deadline for something like lack of water would still be pretty tight, but it also would realistically reflect the need to call in outside contractors.

If the landlord doesn't meet one or both of these deadline, the tenant is then permitted to call in contractors unilaterally and have the bill sent to the landlord. Because tenants don't always know how to choose a good contractor, landlords would be required to provide a list of the contractors they use to the tenants. However, tenants are permitted to choose someone who isn't on the list. Tenants are also permitted to attempt to fix the problem themselves, and absolved of any responsibility for repairs gone wrong. Basically if the landlord wants it fixed their way and at the cost they've agreed to, they'd better do it on time.

In cases where a contractor has been called or a part has been ordered but there's a bit of a wait, the landlord must provide the tenant with all pertinent information - who did they call, reference number, ETA, etc. I can make arguments for and against tenants being permitted to call in their own contractor if the landlord's contractor's ETA for parts or service exceeds the resolution deadline.

If the landlord is doing their job properly, this shouldn't change anything. If the landlord is not doing their job properly, they will have to pay the cost of doing their job properly. And the tenant is no longer at the landlord's mercy for their basic living conditions.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

When I was your age, I GOT to walk five miles to school!

In elementary school and in high school, I mostly walked to school. I rather liked it. I liked being able to choose what time to leave (go in early to join the pick-up soccer game, or watch another cartoon before I leave?) and which route to take (the direct route like good girls, or the back streets where we could feel transgressive by jaywalking, or through the townhouses' playground where we could feel transgressive because strictly speaking that playground was for residents only?). I liked being able to stop in at Becker's and buy candy, or pop into a friend's house, or, when I was in high school, go out of my way to Tim Horton's for a treat before heading home. In high school I liked how, when I was signed out for an orthodontist appointment, I could just kind of not go back to school for my last class of the day. I liked having private time to talk to my friends away from adults' ears, or to just walk by myself and think without parents barging in and asking me why I'm sitting there doing nothing.

However, sometimes I got a ride for various reasons, and various adults around me would give me crap about that. They'd tell me that THEY had to walk to school and I was spoiled for getting a ride. But what this sounds like when you're a kid is that I wasn't good enough to get a ride, I didn't deserve to get a ride, and I should have to walk as punishment for being such a bad and unworthy person. Of course, all this did was make me more determined to get a ride! They were talking about walking in a tone that made it sound like punishment and humiliation, and I didn't want punishment and humiliation! It was like the Tom Sawyer fence thing, but backwards.

When adults complain about Kids Today, they often use language that has that effect. They say Kids Today are Spoiled and Pampered. They say they need to Get Some Responsibility. They say parent should Make Them walk to school and get a job.

But why not say the parents should Let Them walk to school and get a job? Instead of talking about it like punishment and humiliation, why not talk about it as liberating? Because it is liberating, in an age-appropriate way. You get a bit more agency than usual. You get a bit more privacy than usual. You get to do something a bit more grownup than usual and prove to judgey adults that you can do it.

Please pay attention to the nuances here: I'm not suggesting taking things that are objectively unpleasant and just slapping positive names on them, like people who insist on calling a job loss an opportunity for personal growth. I'm not suggesting taking things that are objectively unpleasant and just telling kids they're lucky to do them, like people who tell kids they're lucky to have overprotective parents. I'm not trying to be like Calvin's father and tell you that drudgery and unpleasantness builds character. I'm just thinking about my younger self, coveting the freedom of the characters in her young adult novels, and then being treated like she's bad for not having those freedoms, or that those freedoms are humiliations.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Things They Should Invent: compressed parental leave

Maternity and parental leave currently pay 55% of your income up to $468 a week, and give you up to 15 weeks of maternity leave and 35 weeks of parental leave.

It is possible that this might not be enough money to support you in your year off work. If you're renting in Toronto and your apartment is big enough for your kid to have their own room, it might not even be enough for rent. I'm sure some parents have to go back to work earlier than they'd like simply to avoid running out of money.

Obviously the ideal solution would be to increase the government benefits to a more realistic level, but in the interim here's a zero-cost solution: allow new parents to compress their maternity and parental leave, so they get more dollars per week over a period of fewer weeks.

For example, the total maximum maternity and parental benefits payable is $468x50 weeks, which totals $23,400. For mathematical simplicity, let's say you've determined you need $1,000 a week. Under this proposed system, you'd be able to draw $1,000 a week for 23.4 weeks. So instead of getting a year off with insufficient money, you can have just over five months off with sufficient money. That would be far more useful!

This is beneficial to new parents because they can still take time to be with their new child, but they wouldn't have to worry about money. It would cost nothing to the government (it's possible they might even save a tiny bit of money by not having to send out cheques/direct deposits and do paperwork for as many weeks), and it would also be beneficial to employers because their employees might come back from parental leave earlier. Better for everyone, no cost, no downside.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Things They Should Invent: diet machine

The diet machine makes it harder to get at foods you shouldn't be eating and easier to get at foods you should be eating. If you want to eat a food you shouldn't be eating, you have to put a request into the machine. The machine then gives you instructions to eat some specific healthy food. After you've eaten the healthy food, you have to put in a second request for the unhealthy food. Then there's a 20 minute countdown (because apparently it takes 20 minutes between when the food enters our mouths and the feeling of fullness reaches our brains. After the countdown, the machine doesn't beep or anything. It just sits there quietly. If you still want the unhealthy food, you have to remember to go and put in a request a third time. Then it will release the lock on the food.

For example, suppose you're craving fries. You request fries, and the machine tells you to eat a serving of vegetables and drink a glass of water. (The vegetables and water aren't locked up by the machine and you can nibble on them whenever you want.) Then, if you're still hungry, you put in a second request and the machine tells you to wait 20 minutes. Then, after 20 minutes, you put in a third request and it releases the fries. But, of course, it's not like the fries are all sizzling hot. You still have to turn on the oven and cook them.

So ultimately what the machine does it reduces ease and impulsiveness of eating things you're not supposed to. No, I haven't the slightest idea how to actually make a device like that work.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A plot hole in my childhood

A couple of times a year, we'd go up north to visit my great-grandparents. (Three were still alive when I was born, the last passed away when I was about 13.) I found this boring. We had to sit in their house and do nothing while the grownups talked about boring things that I didn't understand, and I always felt awkward and vaguely humiliated because it seemed like they didn't want me there. So one day I asked my father (whose grandparents they were) why I had to go. It really didn't look like they needed me there, I had to just sit there and do nothing. "Because it makes them happy," he replied.

What I took away from this at the time is that it makes old people happy when I'm feeling bored and out of place and awkward and humiliated.

But thinking back on it with an adult perspective, if you're an adult and it does in fact make you happy to see certain children that you're related to, wouldn't you engage with them somehow? Talk to them, ask them about their lives, offer them treats, get them to show you what they can do and praise them for being able to do it well?

At the time, I felt guilty for not knowing what to say or do to engage with them, but looking at it as an adult, they should totally have been the ones to engage with me! They had multiple children and grandchildren (obviously), they'd been children themselves, they'd been alive for 10 times as long as I had (and no, at this point they weren't losing their faculties like the other elders I've been blogging about recently). They were the ones empowered to initiate and facilitate the relationship. But they gave me less than I give my co-workers' stray children when they wander into my office.

So the question is: did it actually make them happy to see me and they had an odd way of expressing it, or was my father lying to me about that? Not that it makes much of a difference to me either way, but it's a mystery.