Friday, September 30, 2011

Now I understand

When I was young I remember my dad going to great effort to bbq up steaks just perfectly seasoned and cooked to our specifications.  My response to having the steak put down in front of me was to head over to the fridge to grab the ketchup and prepare to utterly drown the steak.  I remember the look of pain and disappointment on my dad's face and him trying to convince me that ketchup was not necessary as the steak was already seasoned properly but I would hear none of it.  We eventually compromised on a small amount of ketchup instead of the tsunami I had been originally intending.

A few years later I went off to university and on my first day of frosh week my frosh leader found out about my love for ketchup and asked "Do you want to make a fool of yourself?" and of course I answered in the affirmative.  2 minutes later I was drinking ketchup straight out of the bottle in front of a massive audience and became known as the "Crazy frosh who drank ketchup" for quite some time.

Tonight I cooked up some stirfry vegetables, brown rice and salmon.  I cooked the salmon in butter with lots of pepper and lemon juice and it was crispy and smelled so good.... but when I put it down in front of Elli she ran straight to the fridge to get the ketchup.  All these years later and I finally understand that feeling.  I put in a lot of time and effort working to get this just right and you want to utterly drown all of that in a deluge of sugar, tomatoes and salt?  Why bother at all, just eat styrofoam and cover it in ketchup!  You know, like McDonalds.

I have heard in the past people saying "Oh my God, I'm turning into my Mother!(Or Father)" but this time it is more like "Dammit, he was right all along."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My financial hero *cough* villain

Now and again I find links to interviews with bigwigs in finance who talk about the financial crisis.  Sometimes they end up being reasonable and the bigwig in question talks about what they think the global economy is going to do and why they think that.  Sometimes they just talk about the inevitable collapse in a resigned fashion and sometimes the bigwig actually wants a depression because they are in a position to profit from it.  The thing that boggles me most about these interviews is the way in which the people being interviewed have no idea of the difference between acquiring money and creating value.  They seem to think that by telling people to invest in (insert random stock, bond or currency here) they are being philanthropists.

You can build a new product and market it and by doing so become rich.  In this way you are actually creating value because you are making something people need and receiving wealth in return - the lives of those who use your product are presumably enhanced.  On the other hand you have people who invest large sums of money betting that the market will collapse and cheer when it does and act as if they have done something great by making a lot of money.  In particular they seem to feel great about giving investing advice on TV because the people who listen to that advice can then make a profit from it.  How wonderful!  Of course the fact that this money comes directly out of the value of other people's investments isn't much acknowledged.

It is a truth that people simply don't understand what money is.  It is a measure of influence among people and it is a zero sum game.  If you make a lot of money then somebody else *had* to lose a lot.  If you look at how you made the money and notice that nobody benefited than you are certainly increasing your personal wealth but you are doing so simply by taking from others.  I can absolutely understand pride in earning a lot of money through creating things or offering services to people - in that case there is a real correlation between money and value.  Unfortunately much of the largest monetary acquisitions in the world today are simply taking money from others for no benefit to us all and becoming rich that way is something I put no value in whatsoever.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Copyright once again

Awhile ago I posted about music piracy.  At the time Wendy and I often disagreed on the topic because I had little sympathy for people who felt that they were entitled to pirate music and expected this to be taken as a form of protest against the music industry along with the expected indignation at the idea that their actions were illegal and thus subject to normal legal penalties.  Wendy's opinions were much more strongly against record companies and for doing anything that would stick it to them.  Although both of us agreed that the music industry wields far too much power, that DRM sucks and we both have music that has not been paid for she took the side of the pirates and I advocated for the law and by extension the music industry.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  I have posted all kinds of pictures on my blog yanked from Google searches and I rarely posted any sort of links or credits for the original sources.  I very much felt like since I was using the pictures purely as pictures, not making money from them and not representing that they were my work that I was doing no wrong but this time Wendy took the other side.  She argued that I was breaking the law (true, I imagine) and that it was necessary for me to only post things that I had received permission to post or which were explicitly under Creative Commons.   I found it strange that previously I was on the side of Big Brother and now I was defending my completely harmless use of pictures found on random sites.  What a strange reversal.

I got pretty defensive.  I try not to do that because I want to be the sort of person who can set aside personal investiture in things and be entirely objective when someone I love is saying "You are doing things that are *wrong*!" but I just can't.  I got irritable and talked about never putting up pictures again - that would suck hugely as I think appropriate pictures are great for making posts more amusing and fun to look at.  If I have to hunt down the legal information on every picture I want to use I am pretty much not going to use them since I just don't want to sink that much time into every selection.

Now I have some figuring to do.  You may or may not have noticed but over the past little bit I have been posting credits and links to every picture I use that isn't something I took myself.  I haven't bothered checking licencing though or attempted to determine if the original picture is one that I am technically allowed to reproduce.  This is some kind of compromise.  I give credit to the source of the picture and make it clear it isn't mine but I don't worry about whether I am supposed to use it.  Obviously if anyone cared enough to tell me to take a picture down (Hah, I wish!  What a great moment that would be.) I would do it but that isn't going to happen.  For the moment this is where I stand.  I will steal and pillage but at least I will be clear and up front about who I am stealing and pillaging from.  A moral high point this is not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Families in politics

During the federal election I decided to go online and read the platforms of the various parties to figure out who to vote for.  Going in I had a pretty strong idea that the Conservatives were completely unpalatable and their platform absolutely backed that up - I voted Liberal based on their platform which looked to be by far the most responsible and realistic one.  My candidate won (as always, I live in a riding that always goes Liberal) but the Conservatives won overall anyway despite the massive power of my vote.

Now we have provincial elections coming up and I figured I would use the same tactic.  I don't think it is a perfect system but I think going by what a party commits to doing in writing and in public is a decent way to decide.  I read the Liberal plan and it seemed good but decidedly short on hard plans to get our deficit down or eliminated.  They commit to a 2017 timeframe but the plans to get there aren't well spelled out.  There is lots of extra spending but at least I do approve of the spending - medical care, education and green energy are their big talking points and I think those are things that are worth paying extra taxes to have.  They specifically say they want to keep taxes the same by and large which at least is something resembling a plan to fix the deficit.

Next I went to the Conservative website and found it really interesting.  First off as soon as I started looking at their details a chat window popped up and Joseph indicated that he was happy to discuss the Conservative plan with me.  Unsurprisingly he wasn't actually much help as he mostly just copy-pasted Conservative bullet points into the chat window but it is an interesting technique to use for sure.  After reading their fiscal policies I came to the conclusion that the Conservatives intend to spend more money, lower taxes and get rid of the deficit.  This doesn't add up somehow!  They also claim to be planning on zero deficit by 2017 but their plan to get there involves axing a few small government programs and a magical 2% reduction in spending every year with no loss of services.  The trick is that you can't lower revenues, increase expenses and magically have more money, even if you invoke the mighty magic of Efficiency.

Efficiency, by the way, is politician code for "I don't have any idea how to make the numbers work so I will just wave my magic wand and tada, free money!"  Any time any politician's budget includes the idea of gaining money from nowhere under the guise of Efficiency you need to immediately discount everything they say about money or finance.  Maybe they are clueless, maybe they are lying, no way to know.

The other fascinating thing I noticed is how hard all parties evoke the Family justification.  The Liberals talk about policies benefiting Families but the Conservatives beat that drum so hard it hurts my ears.  Everything is talk about how hardworking Families are hurt by high taxes and how Families shouldn't have to pay public servants and how hard Liberal policies have been on Families.  Funny they never mention hardships for single people.

Why exactly are they focused on convincing people that they are pro Family?  Some kind of 'breeders are good' agenda that seems to come from the Catholic Church and their 'MOAR Catholic babies' policies?  Maybe just trying to tap into people's positive emotions towards anyone related to them?  I figure that everybody is just using it in the same way that beer companies use the word Cold.  It makes no damn sense logically but the marketing people are sure that it works.  I might dismiss my religious conspiracy theories on this one if it wasn't so obvious that the Conservatives were so much more hardcore into pro Family policy than the other parties.

I left the NDP to last.  They were about the same as the Liberals in terms of Family usage but they actually had something the other parties lacked:  A real budget listing the exact costs of their promises and the extra revenues they intended to create with new taxes.  Unsurprisingly they intend to get lots of extra money by increasing corporate taxation and capping public sector pay for the top earners.  I support both of those things, especially because Ontario currently has much lower corporate taxes than the rest of North America anyway.  Some of the NDP promises are a little sketchy though, like protectionist rules governing placement of mining processing.  I don't like protectionist tariffs and rules since they make everyone poorer.

At the moment I don't know which way I will go, NDP or Liberal.  The Conservative 'tough on crime' stuff as well as their fiscal dreamland has put me off them for certain.  I don't particularly love the plans for either the NDP or the Liberals but some combination of the two of them would be good.  Maybe somebody else who reads here can give me a good reason to go one way or the other.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Everything is complicated

Today I started volunteering at Elli's school.  I am a Milk Monitor, which basically means I sell milk to all the kids and keep my eyes open for ways to help them as necessary.  At the outset this seems extremely simple.  As my printout describing my job says though, the ways in which I can help are limited.  I cannot clean up spills.  I cannot stack chairs at the end of lunch.  I cannot dismiss the kids, discipline the kids, or really do anything with the kids except take their 50 cents and hand them a chocolate milk.  (They can choose regular milk instead!  Which happens approximately never.)  In theory I am not even supposed to be reminding the children of the lunchroom policies because doing so is the job of a teacher or other qualified professional - just the act of mentioning the rules is prohibited to me.

The best part is the set of reasons I can't do any of the things described above:  Union rules and liability.  I can't clean up a spill because that is a designated union job.  I can't pick up a chair because that is a designated union job.  Of course the school doesn't have anyone performing these tasks because they simply can't find someone to work for 1.5 hours at lunchtime at normal hourly rates.  I can't interact with the kids in any meaningful way because of the liability issues involved for the parent's council. If I were to tell a kid to stop doing something then the spectre of liability would rise up and blot out the sun causing some untold harm when the parents council or the school would have to pay a million dollar settlement to somebody or other.

This stuff makes me IN SANE.  Thing is, the school and parent's council is probably not even at fault here.  I bet it is the case that in fact if I told a kid to stop misbehaving and parents got involved that some kind of serious problem would arise, whether it be a political mess or a court appearance.  The thing that really makes me sad at the end of the day is that I have the choice of being an asshole or violating the rules.  If a kid needs help or is causing a problem I need to do something about it.  The school can't hire the people it needs so somebody or other needs to step up and lend a hand - so I really need to do it knowing that I am breaking the rules and might get myself slapped back into place.  I can't just stand there ignoring the world, I would go nuts.  Instead I must sneakily pitch in in ways that seem like they won't lead to admonishment from those who need my help in the first place.

We need help!

But don't actually help.

[whisper] Well, actually help, but be sneaky about it and lie if questioned directly.

What a ridiculous mess.  It feels like I am in some sort of secret agent movie where my actions will be disavowed if I should be caught doing what I am supposed to be doing.  Unfortunately instead of a gun and an endless string of gorgeous models to sleep with I get a plastic name tag and a gaggle of thirsty schoolchildren.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The future is now

I have talked about how far away mind uploading is... but holy gucamole batman scientists just did something that made me question that a little.  The short version is that using fMRI scientists managed to get a computer program to reconstruct a video a subject watched by analyzing their brain patterns during the viewing.  Check this out:

Mind reading by computer is a long way off but this is stunning.

Picture taken from original article at:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Take a damn physics course

Recently there has been a shocking new result in the world of physics - neutrinos have been measured to be moving faster than the speed of light.  The speed of light in a vacuum is known to be 299, 792, 458 mps and the measured speed of the neutrinos at CERN was 299, 798, 454 mps Source.  The difference is incredibly tiny of course but the implications for physics if in fact things can travel faster than the speed of light is staggeringly large.  I would posit that staggeringly large is a huge understatement, in fact, and I need a long string of very, massively, and other such descriptors to convey how important that would be.  For example, it creates potential problems with the very idea of causality - that effects follow causes.

Like much of the reporting on cutting edge physics though the actual articles you find out there are ridiculous and make me cringe.  There are prestigious papers reporting that E=MC^2 tells us that the speed of light is the maximum possible speed (argh, why?), that E=MC^2 will be overturned by this result (preposterous) and other such drivel.  The problem with most of the articles out there is they have no idea what is going on so they get some credulous sound bytes from some guy in a lab coat, type out the physics formula best known among laypeople, slap on some pictures of Einstein because he has crazy hair and call it a day.  Why bother reading a wikipedia article on the speed of light when you can just fill the page with funny pictures of old time physicists and off topic formulas?

Fagh.  While it is true that this result *could* be the biggest in 20 years in physics it is far, far more likely that there is some tiny error in measurement or modelling that leads to this vanishingly small difference in measured speeds.  Even if it is true, there is every reason to think that some other strange thing allows this discrepancy to occur that will not result in any significant rewrites to our understanding of relativity.  Just like when the media reported that the Large Hadron Collider was going to create a black hole this event is being spun and misreported to such an extent that you can hardly see the original idea from the ridiculous rhetoric.  This is Science, not Religion, and as such everybody is going to look at the new data carefully and decide rationally if old results and ideas need to be rethought or discarded.  Those who want to crack out the champagne for "Einstein was wrong day" need to wait a little bit longer yet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My parents are sociopaths, apparently

I picked up Elli from daycare tonight and had a strange experience.  Her friend got my name (Sky) confused and Elli had to correct her; it turns out that Sky and Scott sound remarkably alike and the majority of people who hear my name for the first time assume they heard Scott instead.  Elli knows that many people get my name wrong in exactly that way so she asked

"Did Nana and Poppa give you the name Sky to try to confuse people?"

I contained my laughter and told her that they probably I got my name because they liked the name Sky and not because it would confuse others.  There you have it, my kid is suspicious that my parents are sociopaths based on the name they gave me.  I guess I should be offended?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Apparently I look bizarre

Earlier this week I decided to cut my goatee off based on Wendy's complaints about being stabbed.  Here is a before and after set of pictures:

So here I am, looking as I have pretty much all the time for the past 16 years.  I have been clean shaven for about 7 days since I was 17 and the last time was in 2002 I think.  I don't know exactly how it is that shaving regularly changes one's face but it sure as hell does.  Shaving the sides is a simple zip zap done but shaving the goatee area was nothing but catching and ripping and going over the same spot five times and bleeding and pain.  Minor bleeding, mind, but still the difference was profound.  Somehow the skin really does become accustomed to a razor.

And here is the sight of my face being exposed to the light of the accursed day-star for the first time in nine years.  I know I look different but the reactions I got were really something else.  People at Elli's daycare stared at me and gasped and told me with faces full of disbelief "You are so YOUNG!"  Yeah, I guess I should have expected that when I saw all the grey in the beard as I trimmed it off but I didn't think I would find half the people I meet with their jaws on the ground.

I remember running away and hiding from my Dad when he trimmed his beard off when I was very young.  Elli didn't do that though, she took a little bit longer to recognize me but thought that the trim was quite exciting and told all her friends to touch my face.

I was hoping that Wendy's reaction would be much more heartening.

"Oh my God."

"You have no upper lip at all!"

Ouch?  I mean, clearly there is more to my lower lip than upper but I gotta say that reaction isn't doing much for my self esteem.  Not that this sort of thing is new, she does like to talk about how grotesquely enormous my nose is too.

She spent the whole evening staring at me and wandering around me giving me extra space saying things like:

"I can't believe your voice is coming out of somebody else's face."

"Is it cheating if I sleep with you even though I feel entirely sure the person I am sleeping with isn't you?"

"I feel like 'you with a beard' is going to show up and beat you up for kissing me."

So much for gratitude for me sacrificing my beard on the altar of matrimonial bliss; first thing that happens is she starts cheating on me with me.  I'm going to have to get that other guy somehow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hunger Games

This was a great book and a great series.  There have been plenty of books written about dystopian futures that contain some kind of 'death game' where participants battle traps, obstacles and/or each other and die messily for the entertainment of the masses.  I read Stephen King's (written as Bachman) Running Man when I was a teenager and really liked it but The Hunger Games is better.  The thing I really enjoyed about it most of all is that the main character, Katniss, is absolutely believable.  She isn't some superhero intent on toppling the Evil Regime by herself and she isn't the Great Leader who will save the people.  Instead she is just a person, one with some notable talents for sure, but she acts like a sixteen year old would be expected to act in the sorts of insane situations she gets into:  She goes crazy, makes bad decisions, hurts people, does a few really clever things and makes a mess of her relationships.  Just like with George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire the thing that draws me to this series is the fact that the people involved are complicated, interesting and flawed. In short they are people, rather than just random members of Team Good or Team Bad.

Unlike Martin's books though this series is a fast read.  A couple hundred pages per book and three books makes for a relatively quick run through but the reader really does get everything they need to follow the story.  Thankfully although the series is set in the future 100+ years the author never gets mired down in tech and explanations of the physics required for the various inventions and world changes that have occurred.  There is high tech stuff but we only learn as much as Katniss learns - and since she begins and remains pretty much a hunter/gatherer that ends up not being very much aside from "which button do I press to make it work?"  I like SciFi and I really appreciate authors who can use a setting with noticeably advanced technology compared to our own without worrying about physics since the physics discussions always start and end with baloney and only serve to break immersion.  I don't care how people make a force field or a hand held energy weapon, I just want to know that people bounce off the first and die when hit by the second.

Not to say the series is perfect.  There are a few discussions between characters that make little sense, in particular the ones that centre around breeding population sizes, but thankfully all the lapses are small and never interfere with the story as a whole.  You might also not be the sort of person that wants a bunch of teenage angst mixed in with your dystopian / death games / SciFi reading but the teenage angst and the love story are well done and I really enjoyed the juxaposition of the two genres.  They mix together effectively and both stories get told with satisfying endings.

Read this series.  It has Dark Post-Apocalyptic Future (which I love), Death Games (which I love even more) and great characters involved in a tight, well written story.

Picture taken from Wikipedia.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mustache attack

Last night I went to kiss Wendy and...

"Argh!  Your mustache crawled up my nose and stabbed me!"

"Ummm, how is that possible?  It isn't that long right now."

"I don't know, but it attacked me."

"Okay, how about kissing like this instead..."

"Ow!  It did it again.  Why have you set your mustache on Aggressive?"

"Fine, I will set it to Passive."

"Why is it attacking me?"

"Should I trim it short?"

"No, then it will just stab me in the lips instead."

"How does it even do that anyway?  Also, why did this never happen until a few years ago... I have had this goatee for 16 years."

"I don't know but keep it away!"

Given that my mustache is apparently engaged in savage assaults against my wife's lips and inner nose?!? I think it is time to try out the clean shaven look for a while.  I have had my goatee since I was a teenager with only two very temporary reprieves as far as I can recall and both were on Hallowe'en.  The first was to dress up as Mulder from XFiles to be part of a Mulder/Scully costume team and the other was to dress up as Hobo to be part of a Sky/Hobo costume team.  Now boldly I go to the land of the whipped man where I shave my precious facial hair to please my lady.  Next thing you know she will be wanting me to get a job or something...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Oh, the irony

I love you Weird Al.  Even though I actually get really minimal amounts of forwarded stuff actually sent to me I laughed out loud at this piece.  It is ironic but unsurprising that I will be sending this on to everybody I know.  Sorry Al.


I am confused about signage

Often when looking at random signs and advertisements the first thing we see is a IMPORTANT STATISTIC.  It is designed to be disturbing and to show us that a problem is much bigger than we thought it was, thus creating a need for change.  This sign didn't quite accomplish that:

The thing I cannot fathom is what exactly is weird about this statistic.  People under 30 tend to have a lot of sex, with varied partners.  They also comprise a pretty large chunk of the 'old enough to have sex' age bracket.  Why would anybody be shocked that 1/3 of HIV diagnoses are in this age group?  Clearly finding ways to combat HIV is good, but how can this be considered a shocking sort of statistic?  Were there really a lot of people out there who figured that everyone getting HIV was over age 30?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Big money

In my Whipping Girl post earlier this week I touched a bit on the idea of taking a huge amount of money as a bribe to change genders permanently - in the sense of identifying yourself to everyone as the other gender and going through physical/medical transition.  There was a great discussion in the comments and I thought I should talk a little more about a very related issue, that being what we perceive money to be.

Many years ago I asked a lot of people the question "Would you let Michael Jackson have anal sex with you for a million dollars?" and then the follow up "How about if instead I saved the lives of 10 orphans in a developing country?"  Of course Michael Jackson was just a stand in for "Something revolting", but the responses were interesting because the great majority of people said no to the first but yes to the second.  I then asked them why they valued a million dollars less than 10 lives when you can save *more* lives than that if you spend a million dollars.  The trick was simply that they all imagined spending the money on luxuries and not spending it on charity.  I wanted to point out that money is not automatically transformed into luxuries but rather is simply power and power can be used for good or ill.

The Whipping Girl question is comparable.  A lot of people look at the question as a matter of luxury - would they transition for the luxury that 10 million dollars could bring?  Nearly all said no.  For most people I think that is absolutely the right choice because the happiness that 10 million dollars worth of loot is going to bring won't be remotely comparable to the unhappiness involved in transitioning and living as the 'wrong' gender.  However, a few commenters pointed out that their lives would be completely different as a result of having the 10 million and that they could *stop* caring about what everyone else thought at that point instead of being forced to deal with it every day.  Rather than a Porsche they would just buy a nice place, quit their job and live off the interest and cease to be concerned at all if the entire world thought they were mad / wrong / weird.

Also you must consider that to vaccinate a child in Africa against measles costs less than a dollar.  A mosquito net to keep malaria bearing insects away is a dollar.  How many lives could you save by buying 500,000 measles vaccinations and 500,000 mosquito nets?  I don't know, but I bet the answer is 5,000 at least.  So of the 10 million dollar reward you can keep 9 million of it (hardly a difference you will notice) and save FIVE THOUSAND lives.  Of course by this logic the developed world has a moral obligation to send huge amounts of aid to developing nations, which is a stance I support.  It would be far better for the rich maniacs handing out 10 million dollars to just buy the aid themselves but the thought experiment is an interesting one.

Whether or not the pursuit of money is a noble or frivolous thing is entirely up to the person getting the money.  Mostly people use money to buy more luxury but that is not the only way.  Anyone who does decide to pursue money avidly and then give a large percentage of their income away to good causes can count on my hat being permanently off to them - it is a rare thing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reading into the wee hours

More often than not my parenting posts end up being complaints or rants of one type or another.  Lest I be accused of not relishing the good parts of having a kid I present the following:

Elli has recently taken to staying up late with her lamp on reading her books.  She can puzzle out individual letters and a few words now but she can't really read the books yet.  Nonetheless she is happy spending hours poring over her collection - usually the Franklin books are her favourites for this activity but last night it was all Dora The Explorer all the time.

This has a huge amount of 'awww, how adorable!' attached to it for Wendy and I because both of us recall very vividly our childhood experiences of hiding books and lights from parents to stay up far later than we were allowed.  We hid under covers and stayed up into the wee hours to finish the latest tome we were addicted to and now our little one is falling asleep with her light on and her book in hand.

Eventually I will get to introduce her to my favourites though most likely she will end up enamoured of some terrible series that makes me cringe.  Just like I couldn't stop reading The Hardy Boys I assume there will be some silly fluff that makes me sigh but thrills her little heart.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whipping Girl

Recently Corporate Plunderer sent me Whipping Girl by Julia Serano.  Much props are due because this was a hell of an interesting read.  I recommend reading it for everyone, though you should expect much more of a textbook than a shocking expose.  Much moreso than the transexual experience itself I was intrigued and informed by the feminist portions of the book and the things it had to say about our society's assumptions about women and femininity.  It is clearly obvious that female attributes are an object of revulsion and terror for many men - just imagine a woman holding a man's wallet and compare that to a man holding a woman's purse for a moment and you can see how people react to the idea of men being associated with femininity.  Even moreso I think about what happens to Wendy or Elli when they dress in a masculine style, that is to say nothing at all happens.  If I wore a dress out and about though I would expect a constant stream of stares, some veiled hostility and a really reasonable chance of some kind of confrontation or other unpleasantness.  It is strange to know that a thing has always been true and that I have internally acted knowing the truth of it and yet be surprised when I finally come to grips with it intellectually.

One of the most telling points Serano makes is that when she gives speeches she will often invite her listeners to contemplate the following question:  Would you transition to the other gender permanently for 10 million dollars?  Clearly if you buy into the idea that just continuing to live with a mismatch between your subconscious and assigned gender isn't that bad you must think everyone would transition for 10 million.   Despite this practically nobody is willing to (barring those who want to transition anyway, presumably).  Non trans people want to continue to live and look like their current gender even when faced with an immense incentive to change; this alone should serve as plenty of proof that we must fully accept people's self identified gender as legitimate and equal rather than as some other category entirely.  We see all the time on TV what ludicrous things people are willing to do for a moment of fame and a shot at a million dollars and that serves to give us some kind of benchmark for things that are really important to people.

I usually identify as pretty left wing politically but I do often end up in fights with left wing radicals and pundits when I criticize their means, if not their motives (I generally disagree with both the motives *and* the methods of right wing folks).  I was expecting to write this post with a healthy dose of "The author is too radical and divorced from reality" until I got to the final chapter where Serano talks very harshly about a substantial portion of the trans/queer community dedicated to the destruction of the male/female binary and the glorification of non-standard gender and sexuality identifiers.  She feels that she identifies as a woman and that refusing to accept people who do identify cleanly into the male/female binary is a mistake - whether you are talking about male/female or binary/radical you should not marginalize how someone else chooses to experience their gender or sexuality.  Huzzah!  I certainly support the idea that everyone should be given the freedom both legally and socially to have their own ideas and practices surrounding gender and sexuality.  I am reminded a bit of my Barefoot project; I don't mind if people wear shoes so long as nobody tries to make me do so.  Despite the extreme difference in our experiences I find that the sort of world Serano wants to create is the sort of world I want to live in.

I find myself tempted to try putting on women's clothes and wandering around just to see exactly what happens.  I like challenging people's assumptions and I am extremely curious to see the differences in the world when I change nothing but a single piece of clothing - it seems like there are so many things that are hidden from me by my gender and my my usual conformity with the associated norms.

Picture taken from:

Monday, September 12, 2011

A successful marriage

Dan Savage always has interesting things to say, and more often than not he also has correct things to say.  This video contains one gem in particular:  The idea that a marriage can be determined to be successful or not based on whether or not somebody died.  The meat of it is in the second half, if you want to skip ahead.

It is entirely true.  There is a real tendency for people to talk about 'the state of marriage' based solely on divorce statistics, which certainly tells you how often marriages end in divorce instead of death but gives no indicator at all about how happy the people involved are.  If anything I would think that the current high divorce rate (high as compared to say, the 1950s) is an indicator that the people involved in marriage are probably much happier.  Now it is much easier for those in relationships that are abusive, destructive or even just annoying to get out and find a better relationship while those who want to stay together continue to do so.  Back when the average marriage lasted 7 years because somebody involved would die a lifetime commitment was a lot more sensible but these days we can very realistically expect 50 years together.  Staying together for a lifetime on the basis that both partners want to is a great thing but expecting that everybody can find someone at age 25 who will fullfill them for 50 years is insane.

I got into marriage with the expectation of being together forever.  That said, even if Wendy and I had a terrible year and got divorced in 2012 I wouldn't look back on my relationship with her as a failure at all - 9 good years and 1 bad year is still a big positive in my books.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gender Bender

In light of the recent flurry of comments on my recent post about being pranked Wendy and I have been talking a lot about gender roles.  Both of us thought a lot about it and came to the conclusion that we couldn't really understand the mindset that would be necessary to go through the trauma of changing genders, whether it be just the social changes or the medical treatments.  Not to say we don't support those who feel they need to, but rather that we just can't grok that situation.  We both thought back on our lives and looked at the things we have done and want to do and gender would not have particularly changed those life paths as far as we can see, though this may be because Wendy already took a more 'masculine' path by choosing a serious career focus and I took the 'feminine' path of going to university to meet someone who wants to go out and earn money so I can stay at home.  We both are very at home in our bodies though and she knits while I like chopping things with axes - there are plenty of stereotypes that we fit very cleanly.

I get a lot of really weird looks and questions when I talk about what I do that I know women in the same situation would likely not get.  People seem very concerned to figure out what sort of business I have cooking up at home because clearly a man wouldn't stay at home without being some sort of entrepreneur.  After defending my choice not to turn my hobbies into sketchy small businesses I often have to put the questioner on the defensive.

"You know, our experiences at 1 o'clock are probably really different.  You think about how you only have 4 hours left in the damn place before you can go home whereas I have to carefully decide between a long afternoon nap and just surfing for porn for 4 hours straight.  Good thing all that working has left you almost ready to retire, right?"

People don't like it when I say this but it sure gets them off my back!  When I get hassled about going about barefoot it is a little different though - sidelong glances are everywhere, sneers are reasonably common and outright hostility happens now and again.  That obviously isn't the same thing as violating gender norms but it sure gives me insight into just how ridiculous people get when someone makes a small change to normal behaviour that is entirely personal and harmless.

I am reading Whipping Girl and a big focus in the early parts of the book (which are the only parts I am done up to this point) is how the female role is looked down upon by society.  Having considered Wendy's experiences and my own it becomes abundantly clear how true this is.  A person expressing shock or disbelief at Wendy's career direction would be a very strange thing indeed as she is a woman pursuing a traditionally male career role but I am a man pursuing a traditional female career role so I am deemed strange because that role is looked down upon as inferior.  Why would I choose to avoid a career when I could choose that option so freely?  Well, I have plenty of good reasons, not the least of which is that I mostly don't give a damn if people generally don't respect my choice and in fact enjoy challenging people's assumptions.  Those who know me will not be surprised by this!

I also got to thinking that I know I am male and I know I desire women but I have no idea what that means.  Do breasts define a woman?  A vagina?  The ability to bear children?  Two X chromosomes? Acting like a woman?  Feeling like a woman?  I have no idea where my boundaries are - I have never been in a situation where that came up as a point of contention so even though my desire for women is a pretty defining part of my personality I don't even know what it means.  Bizarre.  Just as much, what does it mean for me to understand myself as a man?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I hate banks

Today I went down to the bank to change Elli's RESP investment to something sensible.  The bank has it invested in their 2025 fund, which is ostensibly designed to maximize your return by the year 2025 and to invest less aggressively as that date approaches.  In reality of course it is designed to charge a truckload of fees so that the bank gets a tremendous share of the final sum.  I told the 'investment expert' that I wanted to transfer my money to the Canadian Index Fund which charges .7% per year instead of 1.9% per year.  First he tried to deny that there were any charges at all but eventually relented and confessed that the funds themselves charge but the bank doesn't!

The bank, by the way, is the one who manages and designs these funds.  ARGH.

Finally he went on a long campaign to convince me that the Canadian Index Fund was too risky and wasn't a good idea.  He pointed to the 2008 drop of 33% in the stock market and told me to expect my investment to drop 33% if I changed over to the new fund.  Notably he didn't point to the precipitous drop in the 2025 fund in 2008, but I wasn't there to pick a fight.  Finally after I made it clear I was simply not going to relent he filled out the forms to allow me to retain 1.2% more of my money every year and shooed me out of the place.  There are times when I am much more willing to defend bankers than most people but today sure isn't one of those times.  Investment advisors dress much better than pool hall sharks but they sure don't deserve any more respect.

In an interesting math note someone I know worked out what happens if you invest in a normal 2.5% fee mutual fund at the bank starting at age 25 and going until age 65.  If you assume the bank keeps the fees and invests them at the same returns as the client gets the bank ends up with 50% of the money at the end.  Yup, half the money for the bank, half the money for the investor.  Who needs to break the law when you can do that?

When Obi-Wan said "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." he must not have seen the local RBC.  Of course, nobody is likely to try to *shoot* me in there...

Leaving the meat behind

This Youtube video is awesome.  It is a documentary about prosthetic limbs and organs looking at how close we are to being able to build a futuristic cyborg like the ones we see in movies and video games.

Awhile ago I was talking to Hoop Girl about the future and we were discussing the possibility of uploading consciousness into a computer.  I used the phrase 'leave the meat behind and go flying' and she looked at me with a funny expression and said that she thought that the meat could be a lot of fun.  Can't argue with the fact that some parts of me that wouldn't be modelled by a consciousness upload do in fact provide lots of entertainment value!  However, the appeal of massive processing power, memory and ludicrously fast communication (to say nothing of immortality) is immense.  Right now we aren't even able to see consciousness uploading on the horizon but building more powerful bodies and organs than we get naturally is going to occur within my lifetime.

What will you do when you are faced with the choice of using a robotic arm that is stronger, faster and tougher than your 'real' one, especially when you can swap out your hands for other tools like swimming fins, chainsaws and who knows what else?  I think there will be an awful lot of soul searching when our society is first faced with the real choice of becoming a cyborg not out of necessity (which plenty of people do right now) but rather out of a desire for an upgrade.

Monday, September 5, 2011

An overdeveloped sense of dependency

I got back from a full week at the cottage and felt like I needed to plug into the internet for an extended period to recover from my absence.  Strangely it only took me an hour or so to read over the stuff in my feed reader and I was back up to date with the blogs and sites that I regularly follow.  After that I sat for a little bit wondering why I had an impression that I was missing so much when I was away when it took so little time to catch up again.  When I was really addicted to WOW I had a lot more to read to stay current but even then I think I overestimated how much connectivity mattered.

I certainly want the internet but I think perhaps my own mind has really come to exaggerate how much there is that I really want to read on a daily basis and how much it matters.  Aside from being utterly clueless about big news stories I seem to be able to go for substantial time periods without really needing that plug in.  This is probably a good thing but it still feels like a strange conclusion to come to.  In fact I think the biggest thing I missed was actually the regular blogging and the requisite learning and discussion that goes along with posting regularly.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I got pranked

The topics of gender identity and sexual preference have come up on my blog a number of times.  I have pretty progressive views on these topics as far as the whole spectrum of humanity goes but there are still plenty of things for me to learn.  Corporate Plunderer (CP) has been a regular commenter on these sorts of posts, regularly pointing out my lapses in sensitivity and knowledge.  I found this tendency ... a little odd.  When I knew CP back in my university days CP was a relatively typical white heterosexual male born into relative privilege... completely nutty, as many of my friends were, but that was par for the course.  I assume they thought of me in the same way, lovingly I hope.

My last real post had a long discussion in the comments about the necessity of entering one's gender into Google+ and the fact that this was a public rather than optional or private.  I filled out the profile with "M" without any reservation since by any way of reckoning that I am aware of I am male.  It was brought to my attention though that a lot of people have an issue with this and I can very easily see why.  As long as suitable other options exist (other/choose not to say/etc.) I have no problem with a gender field but opting out should be possible - there are plenty of people like me that have no issues with full public disclosure but that isn't true universally.  In one of the responses I talked about how both CP and myself have had it easy in terms of gender and sexual identity and got a "0_o" response and a link.

I looked at this link and the title of the website and my brain began to churn.  After some intense Facebook perusal I discovered that in fact CP is transgender and has been out in public for months while I remained happily oblivious.  So much for her having it easy being born a hetero male!  Clearly I needed to respond in some fashion so I composed an apologetic email detailing that I was entirely unaware of the situation and expressing all appropriate support and acceptance.  The response went along the lines of "It was obvious you were clueless for months and I have been laughing my ass off waiting for you to figure it out."  So first I was clueless and when I finished doing that I was busy getting trolled. 

"Ha ha, fooled you, I'm a girl!  Pranked!"

Hrmph.  If I had a dime for every time that has happened...

My relationship with CP hasn't exactly had a gender component up to this point so clearly there is no reason to imagine it would change.  If CP had actually been nursing some kind of private grudge about "Why is Sky acting this way, doesn't he *know*?  What a jackass!" I would have been pretty disappointed but I was very amused by the pranking.  So do I succumb to temptation and ask my friends to find out if they were all as uninformed as me?