Monday, October 31, 2011

Gutsy move on Hallowe'en

Tonight we went through the Hallowe'en ritual.  Elli got really into it and was rushing ahead, desperate with excitement.  She mostly behaved herself though we did have to discourage asking for seconds and remind her to say Thank You regularly.  The obligatory shot of the loot gathered in 1 hour and 15 minutes:

She made her Daddy proud and still had just a couple leftovers from last year's candy when we went out tonight - I did the same thing when I was young.  Good thing she plans to spend the whole year eating this stuff because the amount of candy she has here is completely ridiculous.

One thing I found really interesting was that we met up with a group of Trick Or Treaters who had a couple members passing out cards and speeches instead of begging for candy.  They were campaigning for people to not give out gummy wurm type treats due to them containing animal parts (gelatin) and talking about making Hallowe'en vegetarian friendly.  Their other talking point was asking for people to not give out Nestle products on the basis that Nestle relies on child labour in poor countries to produce their goods.  A cursory internet search bears out this claim and even Nestle doesn't deny it - they basically use the defence that they don't employ children but that the only places they can get their resources are places where children are used and abused by the local institutions.  I don't like the idea of child labour one bit but I wonder if this is a fight I want to get involved in.

We were Trick Or Treating with another family and their reaction to this was along the lines of "Wow, it is so sad to see kids being politically active so young instead of just enjoying the holiday."  I don't see it that way at all.  A 10 year old who is aware of these issues and has the guts to go out on Hallowe'en spreading the word and making their protest known peacefully gets a huge thumbs up from me.  None of them need a sack of sugary crap and missing out on that is nothing compared to the experience of getting out there and trying to make the world a better place.  I don't buy into the vegetarian argument personally but that doesn't diminish my admiration one bit.  Mad props for having the guts and initiative to go out there and do that.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I wish

Charlie Stross posted twice recently on the subject of three wishes.  The first was a simple "You get three wishes!" and the second was "You get three wishes but your worst enemy gets double what you wish for!"  Of course the second one isn't very interesting - the classic answer is to wish to lose one eye, but wishing to lose one kidney, wishing for half of a nuclear weapon which will detonate in 10 seconds or other such notions are the same, if funny.

I don't find it very interesting to sit around trying to determine who can come up with the most legalistically bulletproof Happiness For All wish wording so I tend to restrict myself to wishes that just work on me.  Without that distinction I think people generally end up spending all their time wishing for happiness for all (as defined by each individual) and then wishing for nobody else to get any wishes to prevent some jackass from later ruining everything by wishing for a gajillion dollars and for everybody else to be 1 centimeter tall.  This also hopefully means that the genie/god/witch granting my wishes won't get all bitter on my ass and destroy my life since they tend to have issues with people trying to do too much.

1.  I wish to be able to prevent or repair any harm or degradation that may occur to my body, memory or mind at will.

Sort of like invulnerability, except I can allow myself to die or be hurt if I want to.

2.  I wish to have the ability to teleport myself safely and comfortably at 99% of the speed of light to any location I can clearly identify.

Best to not risk violating causality, hence the 99% restriction.  Unfortunately this means visiting other star systems isn't feasible.  I could take a jaunt out to Mars though.

3.  I wish to be completely unaffected by wishes made by other people.

This seems prudent since apparently I live in a world where wishes exist.  I want to avoid preventing other people's wishes entirely but I don't want to get ganked by them.

If my worst enemy got these powers I wouldn't actually be overly concerned.  Mostly the people I hate the most are people who are powerful socially in terms money or influence and I while I wouldn't especially want them to become more powerful I am not sure this would even change that overly much.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Wendy sent me a linke to a marvellous little poem about the impending apocalypse - that is, the way in which every generation has its own set of apocalptical predictions.  I normally abhor poetry but this I like.  Not to say poetry is bad, mind, just that it generally isn't my cup of tea.

Go read the poem!

Not to diminish the fact that nuclear weapons, global warming or the second coming (okay, maybe not that) are actual threats and need to be taken seriously but we need to understand that hysteria and doomsaying will do nothing to solve the problem.  The solution, as always, lies somewhere in the realm of careful examination and measured responses.

Proving a Point

I was perusing Google+ today and saw a link by The Cheerleader to this video.

It is a short video of the Peter Schiff, CEO of a major investing firm, going out to talk to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  In the video Schiff looks like a smart guy and the protesters look a bit foolish and inarticulate.  There are plenty of videos on Youtube about this event of course and the great majority have a major slant one way or the other.  The ones generally linked off of boingboing show the 1% looking foolish and the ones linked off of right wing sites and new sources generally show the 99% looking foolish.  Neither of those things is particularly convincing since you can find a nervous, ill informed advocate of any point of view and demolish them on video and it proves nothing about the fundamental issues being discussed.

More than posting 'my side wins!' videos on Youtube we actually need to look at the underlying issues that are causing this discontent and see how best to address them.  There is a major increase in wealth disparity going on in the US and the combination of that, a major economic slump, inflating debt levels and the recent meltdown are making a lot of people angry.  You can't get rid of their anger or the real concerns they have with the way government is handling the issue by trivializing them.  You also can't get real action on the issues by chucking things at police either; extremist action on both sides is counterproductive.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shiny new things

Take a look at the following picture and tell me what the object in it is useful for.

Maybe you are a wiseass and you answer "It is a kitchen counter, useful for putting other kitchen implements on."  However, the most common answer would be "It is a toothbrush, useful for cleaning teeth."  Both answers are wrong: It is a tummy smoother, hairbrush, nose cleaner, magic wand, gun, pen and table polisher.

Elli got a new toothbrush at the dentist today and it has served all those purposes and more since.  She has been utterly unwilling to part with it to the extent that I had to use this generic toothbrush in my picture because her new pink and purple Ariel the Mermaid toothbrush is tucked into bed with her for the night.  Adults get stuck on new things and love to wear or use new possessions but this is a whole new level of attachment.  The toothbrush is her all, her everything, and must travel absolutely everywhere with her.  All imaginative play is based around what her toothbrush is at this very moment.  Bizarre.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Madness down south

I have been perusing the Republican presidential candidate's pitches and websites a little and it is a completely bonkers world that they live in.  Herman Cain, the current leader in the latest poll that I found, has some really juicy and terrible things on his website talking about his plan for taxation and economic reform.

First off, he proposes a 9/9/9 plan, which will reduce income taxes and business taxes to 9% flat rate and will also introduce a sales tax of 9%.  While I agree that shifting the tax burden to sales taxes rather than income taxes has some merits I must question the need to massively shift the tax burden away from businesses.  Cain also plans to eliminate taxes completely on capital gains - which of course means that the wealthy might well have income tax rates as low as 1%.  Essentially this is an undisguised attempt to shift the burden of paying for government spending almost entirely onto the shoulders of the poor by reducing the taxes of the rich by 50-90% and business by 75%.  The hilarious thing is that even though the plan is pitched as a good thing for the average taxpayer it is, for 84% of the bottom half of the country, a tax hike instead.

There is also the obligatory pandering to Christianity, but Herman Cain is not one to sit on the sidelines, but rather he credits the success of the US entirely to its being the country favoured by God.

And to send a message to the rest of the world when Communism was on the rise in the 1950s, Congress added the words “under God” to our pledge of allegiance. They were not just words. It was a collective reaffirmation that we know the ultimate source of our greatness as a nation.



There are plenty of other things that made me sigh when Cain talks about healthcare, education or other such matters but in those arenas I think the waters are more muddy.  He is wrong about everything (or at least everything he cared to put on the website) but it is much more difficult to pin down exactly where and how he is wrong.

The thing I wonder is whether or not having someone with such incredibly hardcore pro rich, pro religion policies is a good thing or a bad thing.  First off, if these things help him not get elected then it is a good thing.  If he does get elected and tries to implement them though... yikes.  If you think Occupy Wall Street is a problem now, imagine what will happen when the rich pay 75% less into government coffers and the poor can expect no health care nor welfare to pay for it.

God thinks the USA should rule the world.  Also, screw the poor.  Vote Cain!

And yet this works.

Hilarious addendum:  A Cain promo video showing how cool Cain's chief of staff is by smoking during the video.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Searching for truth

I went to a funeral today for someone I have met, but could not recall in any meaningful way.  I had to reassure Wendy that I would not cause problems beforehand as we were going to a traditional Catholic funeral in a church.  There are plenty of versions of Christianity that I don't like but which aren't really that harmful but Catholicism is the big baddie; making massive efforts to prevent distribution and use of condoms in areas that have HIV infection rates over 10% (I have seen reports as high as 40%, which is really awful) is just unforgivable.

Things actually went less badly than I had thought as the great majority of the service was conducted in Polish, a language I have zero comprehension of.  It is tricky to be irritated at what is being said when you can't even figure out what that might be.  I did find though that everything that was said just set me off; a long speech about the value of searching for truth was the capstone.  Searching for what truth exactly?  Doing whatever some old white dude in the Vatican says?  Doing whatever it was that people like you have always done regardless of how much trouble that caused and how much suffering will ensue?  Bah.  The search for truth is looking for answers to questions and being willing to change based on the answers you find, not just deciding that what your grandparents' cultural leader did must clearly have been true and right and ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

It continues to amaze me that people within the church can be so supportive of its policies that discriminate against them in particular.  The Catholic church is massively discriminatory against women and homosexuals (though they often try to pretend not to discriminate against women these days) as well as other groups and yet there are women happily? serving in subordinate positions despite the sexism that prevents them having any significant authority or visibility.  It drives me bonkers to listen to church leaders talking about women in glowing terms and complimenting their accomplishments while simultaneously slamming the door in their faces.  Sorry, I like you well enough, but God hates you.  Go read the Bible if you don't believe me!

I probably should just avoid churches entirely.  Sitting there seething isn't helping anything; I should either get out my spray paint and bucket of blood and have at their symbols with a vengeance or just stay away entirely.  I really want to utter some kind of binding oath to never darken the doorstep of a church again but practicality has stopped me thus far.  Eventually this would cause me to miss the wedding or funeral of someone I cared about, that or renounce my vow which makes it not much of a vow at all.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hilarious and offensive

It is possible to be shockingly, blindingly funny without being offensive or saying things that stand a good chance of hurting feelings.

It also is way harder to do than being shockingly, blindingly funny while using every offensive technique, word and subject available.

If you are willing to settle for offensive and you want funny, read all of these comics (IDK).  It is sort of like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal meets XKCD.  Regularly pound on the desk, howl out loud funny, also likely to offend nearly everyone.  You were warned.

(Start at the end and go backwards!)

Friday, October 21, 2011

I hate cars

Man, do I ever hate cars.

This probably has a good bit to do with where I live, in that every time I get into a car I am dealing with bloody awful traffic on the highway.  This is usually because I am trying to go the same place that everybody else is going, out of the city to the cottage on Friday evenings and back on Sunday.  Even when I am only in the city it makes me insane to sit in traffic and deal with clogged roads.  I don't think I would be willing to put up with driving on a regular basis - unless maybe I was commuting to work at 2 AM or moved up north where 'rush hour' means you have to drive at the speed limit instead of 10 over between 5:00 and 5:30.  Some of my intense hatred is certainly fueled by the environmental concerns but really the majority is just the experience.  The bus isn't perfect but I will take it over having to own a car every damn time.

This is a neat article I found on the actual costs of commuting.  It is US information but I suspect it would be pretty much spot on accurate for much of Canada.  When he puts the costs of commuting in terms of how much more house you can afford the numbers get really quite hilarious.  30 less miles driven each way is worth $477,000 more in house value.  Those downtown condos are looking better and better.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Occupation Forces

Normally when things like Occupy Wall Street and now recently Occupy (Every Damn Place) occur I have a lot to say.  It feels like this is the sort of topic I *should* have a lot of opinions on but somehow neither the protesters nor the establishment has especially acquired my support thus far.  More than anything I think the problem is this:  It is complicated.

I am very much for punitive estate taxes, heavier tax loads for the wealthy and corporations and greater regulation of businesses.  I think the situation here in Canada is drastically better than in the US as our much more restrictive banking regulations meant that Canada had no bank failures and no bank bailouts to deal with. Our tax burdens on the wealthy are greater here and generally although the rich have more ways to get out of paying taxes they also have a higher tax rate and their overall taxation is actually quite similar to the middle class as a percentage of income.  We do, for some bizarre reason, have extremely low corporate taxes because we keep having governments that think that lowering corporate tax rates (despite our tax rates already being rock bottom) is the solution to economic woes.  Here is a hint:  Companies that have higher profits just shuffle those profits to the owners, who may or may not live in Canada.  Companies that are forced to hand that cash to the government instead end up paying for more Canadians to do work in Canada!  

The trouble with the protests is that they aren't a bunch of people advocating for sensible banking regulation, anti monopolistic rules and more sensible taxation.  There are those sorts of folks there of course but there are also buffoons looking for communism, lynchings or the end of capitalism.  Plenty of the people in the Occupy movements have absolutely no idea what they want or what they want makes no sense.  Because of that I have a hard time saying I support them since I support changes that would help the problems they are concerned about but I often don't support what they actually say at all.

Like I said, it is complicated.

Many of those opposed to the Occupy movement are really just looking to the government to be a tool to maintain their privileged position in society and let them pass that privilege on to their children.  In reality a lot of government policy and law is dedicated to doing exactly that but I think that this should not be the government's priority at all.  The priority should be minimizing suffering and maximizing joy throughout the country and that is not served by one person controlling a billion dollars of wealth but rather by 100,000 people controlling 10,000 dollars worth of wealth each.  I am a firm believer in capitalism and I think that our current system of government (a republic, not a democracy) is at least reasonable and needs tinkering, not removal.  I think that monopolies and dynasties are terrible and a major job of government should be preventing them.  

Governments generally don't listen to me though.  They might listen to 10,000 people chanting and demonstrating for change and they might even do the right thing in response.

For all those who lament the state of being poor in North America though, click on this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sugar for the tots

I have been continuing to volunteer as a Milk Monitor at Elli's school.  Initially I had hoped that getting out and volunteering would be a positive, enjoyable experience but the more I do it the more discouraged I get with the whole process.  It isn't as if the work is hard or annoying as all I do is sit in a chair, take change and hand out cartons of milk for an hour.  Getting out of the house and doing useful things is something I enjoy but I find myself looking for the 'useful things' part and not finding it.  I am primarily selling chocolate milk.  This is not a helpful thing for the kids.  If I were selling regular milk it would be much more reasonable but even then I can't find a particularly compelling reason to suggest that regular milk is better for the kids than fountain water.  City of Toronto water tastes fine and is extremely good for you (as much as water can be) so is selling milk even doing anything helpful?  And if it is questionable that selling milk is even being useful then how do I justify selling 90% chocolate milk with all its added sugar?  If somehow getting enough calories were the problem for these kids it might make some kind of sense but that certainly isn't the case; these kids need less sugar, not more.

When I started out I thought that I would probably just do a little bit of cleanup and such and keep myself busy.  I was operating under the assumption that the union rules preventing me from lifting a finger wouldn't be enforced but it turns out I was mistaken.  Yesterday there was only one staff member overseeing the entire lunchroom of ~160 kids so I decided to grab a cloth and clean off some tables so the second group of kids could come in and I was told to stop working.  Rather than get things done in a timely fashion the staffer did it all herself while I sat on my chair staring at a wall.  What a pathetic waste.  It is strange because I don't mind volunteering when there is work to be done.  Generally I am happy as anything working really hard even on simple tasks as long there is some reason to be doing what I am doing.  Just sitting there doing nothing pisses me off though, if I am going to be putting in time my time had better be *used* for something.  After all, I could be slaying pixel monsters otherwise!  It reminds me of my first coop job working for the government which was a miserable exercise in boredom and uselessness.  They didn't care what I did at all but at least I was getting paid to be there.

I figure I will finish out my year doing this because if nothing else I am getting to see and learn new things but my starry eyed idealism is wearing very thin and I am only 3 weeks in.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Storyteller

For some reason Elli has a new routine whenever we go anywhere.  As soon as we step out onto the street she demands that I make up a story.  She wants princesses and faeries but ends up being pretty happy regardless of what sort of madness I concoct.  I don't claim to have any facility with making up stories *well*, mind you, but they appear to be pleasing to a four year old.  Some samples:

A princess trained in the arts of dual wielding daggers throws her weapons into the eyes of a princess eating bear and cuts all of her sisters out of the bear's belly.

A little girl named Elli who owns a bazooka (I had to explain that the first time I used it!) rides around on her tricycle fighting crime by blowing stuff up.

A purple rhinocerous who lives in Candyland goes on a long journey to find out what is causing her red and green striped candy canes to stop tasting good; it turns out a troll living underground in a gingerbread cave is milking the candy canes for sugar and stops when asked politely.

Bob the superhero saves the day by using his superpower of 'Eat things very quickly.'

Somehow these tales, among many, many others have earned me preferential treatment.  Right up until I started doing this I was always the second parent - never wanted unless Wendy was simply not available.  Now I regularly get called in to do her tuck in and Mama is not needed (which Mama usually likes, mind you) and I even get asked to hold her hand when the three of us are out walking together.  Somehow these stories strike a chord with Elli to such an extent that they have drastically changed our social dynamic despite the lack of delicate princesses who ride sparkly rainbow horses on their way to ballet lessons.  My style has a lot more bazookas and sad endings than Elli is used to, I am sure, and that is apparently popular.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Over the top

Recently a new grocery store moved into my neighborhood called Marcheleos.  I knew from talking to people that they were aiming to be an upscale grocery store but I never quite realized what that meant until today when I discovered that they employ two full time valets and a security guard in addition to the normal roster of two deli personnel, two cashiers, three managers and some backroom staff.  All of this for a grocery store that is really quite tiny, probably measuring six meters by twenty meters of floor space.  Their prices, of course, reflect this extravagance and I sure won't be buying anything from them.

Can they really expect to sell enough overpriced groceries to pay for all these extra (and almost certainly useless) staff?  I bet on them being closed in under six months.  There are people in my neighborhood who have the kind of money that they will shop at this sort of place I suspect but I can't imagine there are anywhere near enough - this isn't located in a trendy shopping area but rather sandwiched between Popeyes Chicken and a vacant storefront on Eglinton Avenue.  Bizarre.

I wonder if they will kick me out for going in barefoot?  :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I have a guest blogger, also politics

Sometimes popular bloggers get guest bloggers to fill in time or just say something interesting.  I like the idea of pretending I am a popular blogger so I asked Sthenno (a regular commenter) if he wanted to say anything about politics.  Our provincial election results came back not so long ago and it turns out Sthenno has things to say.  Here we go with my first guest post:


We've had a week now to think about the results of the Ontario elections.  In newspapers and on TV you'll find pundits doing mathematical gymnastics to convince you that the party that won the fewest seats somehow ends up with the most power.  The Liberals, they say, will have to appeal to the NDP to pass budgets and stay in power, which will mean the NDP is essentially calling the shots.  You can hear this from a variety of political pundits, as well as see it behind the Toronto Sun's Friday morning headline, "Welcome to Hell".

I can understand how this thinking works.  So far under Tim Hudak the only policy the Ontario PCs have had is disagreeing with Dalton.  If the PCs continue on this path then the Liberals can't play the two opposition parties against one another, which means that the Liberals need NDP support on every vote to get anything done and to stay in power.

What is missing from this analysis, however, is that voting down the government is not, in itself, winning.  Winning is winning the election after the government falls.  We've seen with the federal government that when a minority is in power, Canadians have a tendency to blame the opposition parties for elections - and it seems we dislike elections a great deal.  Unless the current government is defeated on a very important issue they may just end up getting a majority.

Because of this the Liberals can essentially go forward with whatever they want in the house.  If Ontarians think that Hudak is always going to oppose the Liberals, then the blame for a fast election will fall on Horwath.  So in the next budget the NDP may have a little bit of room to make deals, but they will be in no position to make demands.  They will largely have to accept whatever the Liberals give them.  Another trip to the polls in six months can't really help the NDP's position.

There are other things going against the NDP as well.  Part of the NDP success in this election was a wave of sympathy after Jack Layton's death.  Unfortunately the longer things go on the more people will realize that Andrea Horwath is no Jack Layton.  In his final letter to Canadians, Jack Layton asked us all to embrace hope and positive thinking which is a message that many Canadian voters are starting to feel ready for after a couple of decades of small-minded partisan bickering.  The Ontario NDP campaign, however, concentrated on doom and gloom messaging; the only positive thing they had to say was something about a minor tax rearrangement.

The NDP ability to control their own fate is also somewhat limited.  If the federal NDP seem credible and effective then the provincial party will enjoy benefits, but if the federal NDP seem disorganized and ineffective then the provincial NDP may suffer from that.  Until the federal party finds a leader there is little chance they share their successes with the provincial party, but they have plenty of opportunity to share gaffes.

Finally, Ontario seems to love putting in a government that is opposite to the government in Ottawa.  With Harper in power federally, the Liberals are the natural choice for Ontario, and the result in this past election may convince some voters that vote splitting between the Liberals and the NDP is counterproductive, which would shift more votes back to the Liberals.

This lack of election prospects for the opposition is exactly the same dynamic we saw at the federal level for the last few years, and I think we can expect McGuinty to take a few pages out of Harper's playbook in terms of how he runs the government.

Scandals and disasters will always inject uncertainty into the future of politics, but at this point my prediction is that the Liberal minority will last at least three years and that until then the Liberals will run the province largely unaffected by the fact that they don't technically have control of the house.  What that actually means for the province is another matter.  I think it's usually a lot easier to guess at politics than it is to try to divine what parties will do when they are in power.


Scams are worse than I thought

If you wander about the interwebs at all you will regularly see ads that are clearly scams.  The most common ones are scams trying to sell muscle building drugs, weight loss drugs, investment advice and 'work at home making gazillions of dollars no skills required'.  I know how the first two scams work as I dug into it a bit in a previous post (basically they try to start you off with free offers and hope you don't cancel the subscription) and investment advice is universally a scam, even when it comes from a 'reputable' source.  Today on boingboing I found out just how deep a scam the 'work at home' ads are and it took my breath away.  I had assumed, with my pessimism and nihilism set at Moderate that when you answered one of these ads the company in question just tried to get your banking or credit card information and then stole what they could from you.  Turns out it is worse.

Instead of just stealing from you the companies involved in these scams use you as a front for organized crime.  They get you to accept and reship packages or do other busywork that involves having your address on databases instead of theirs and after a month of work you suddenly find yourself cut off completely and *surprise* no cheques are actually going to arrive.  Then, potentially, you find yourself visited by the police who want to know why exactly dozens of electronic items bought with stolen credit cards were delivered to your house and where the merchandise is now.  In the meanwhile you have been shipping this junk overseas to places where the police have no jurisdiction or real power to investigate and the crime goes unpunished.

I wasn't surprised that otherwise reputable sites would be running ads trying to scam me out of cash with various despicable schemes but I sure didn't think that clicking through would set me up as a patsy for the mob.  Did someone say something about 'If it looks to good to be true...'?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Butting out

Today I was standing on the corner of Yonge and Eglinton waiting to cross to get to the grocery store when I was hit by a big puff of cigarette smoke.  The smoker, having finished exhaling all over the crowd on the corner, tossed the butt of their cigarette down onto the street and wandered away.  My first thought was to bend down, scoop up the butt and flick it into the smoker's forehead while delivering a savage lecture on not being an asshole but instead I just crossed the street and grumbled bitterly.

My internal impulse to freak out on jackasses is something I call Angry Man.  Angry Man has lots of things to say about the world and letting him show me visions of blood and vengeance is an entertaining pastime but I virtually never get to the point where I actually do what he says.  He often encourages me to get into dramatic confrontations and assures me that although I am pretty worthless in a real fight I am a big guy and if I look berserk enough nobody will actually put the matter of who can beat up who to a test.

Angry Man tells me that when we finish with saying Grace at Thanksgiving dinner I should follow up with

"Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I
say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have
done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not
forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible
benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I
ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may
be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in
my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may
not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your
receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and
which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen."

[Roger Zelazny, Creatures of Light and Darkness]

Or potentially an even more belligerent option that doesn't bother with the sarcastic agnosticism.  Generally I end up just sitting through it stewing though since I don't want to cause even more fights than are usual for this particular event. (Note that the fights rarely start with me!)  A much better option has been suggested to me, which is simply to refuse to speak or in any way take part in Grace.  This option was heartily seconded by my internal Clever Man, who appreciates solutions that don't create more problems than they solve.

Unfortunately Clever Man doesn't have any ideas for dealing with highly inconsiderate smokers in public.  I can always ignore them as people mostly do but then the behaviour isn't going to change as I am implicitly suggesting that it isn't a problem by standing there being a silent witness.  Anyone have any good suggestions for Clever Man to second?  Angry Man hasn't come up with anything Clever Man is willing to buy into.

"Oh, don't worry about that butt, I will just put it out and take it to an appropriate receptacle.  Too bad your legs are broken and you can't do that yourself."

"You seem to have dropped this but I am happy to return it to you.  I bet there is a good place for you to put it nearby, otherwise you wouldn't have smoked it, right?"

"I hate you."

"You are under a Citizen's Arrest!"

Monday, October 10, 2011

Taking it all off

I find attitudes towards nudity puzzling.  I read this recent article on some people going around San Francisco naked and the comments were absolutely brutal - there were a few supporters but a really large percentage of them were violently opposed, some to the point that violence was in fact exactly what they had in mind.  Most expressed outrage that anyone anywhere would want to be naked and talked about how awful it must be for the children to have to witness such debauchery.  (I doubt most of those commenters know the word debauchery, mind you, but it is the appropriate term.)  The majority of them roundly condemned San Francisco as a whole for allowing this sort of behaviour and were aghast that a whole city was so corrupt.  The amusing fact is that the article in question talked about how there were just a few of these folks, in a single area in San Francisco that caused the ruckus.  It isn't as if the whole city is full of nudists, but rather that if you wander the streets at random for days you are almost certain to never see anyone naked at all.  Hell, in the semi recent past women won the right to go topless around Toronto and guess how many women I have seen take advantage?  Zero, *cough* unfortunately *cough*.

These sorts of comments don't surprise me, though they are sad.  What really got me was the large number of people suggesting that it should be legal for attractive people to go naked (19 year old women were normally the ones suggested of course) and that the law should restrict ugly people from being naked.  Because, apparently, everybody has a right to not be offended by the bodies of those who don't fit the supermodel mold?  Good grief.  I want to see 19 year old women naked as much as anyone but quite frankly the idea that people's civil rights should be dictated by their level of attractiveness as decided by the crowd is utterly terrifying.  The 'save the children' cries are almost as ridiculous - I have a small child and have watched lots of small children and they have absolutely no issue with nudity.  The only problems that people have with other naked people are ones we create by conditioning each other to pretend to find the naked body horrifying.  I say pretend of course because everybody wants to see attractive naked people of one gender or the other (or both!) but for some reason we feel compelled by the force of peer pressure to freak out if we witness this in public, or if the body in question is one that is below a seven on the beauty scale.

We also had a fun incident at the cottage over Thanksgiving weekend where The Pilot commented that he was entirely disgusted with people who sent their six year old daughter to school with makeup on.  Wendy and I looked at each other with a grin and told him that we regularly send our four year old to school with makeup on... and he had real trouble figuring out what to say to that.  Of course there are good ways and bad ways to do this - Elli finds makeup fascinating and so sometimes Wendy lets her use just a tiny dab and Elli absolutely loves it.  We don't encourage it or discourage it but rather just let her have just a little when she asks for it.  Much like brushing or styling hair or wearing particular clothes I don't see any reason to avoid letting a small person tweak their appearance a little with makeup.  Clearly telling a child that they *need* makeup is ridiculous and awful but letting them try just a bit here and there?  Harmless.  The trouble here of course was not makeup itself but rather the image of 'looking slutty' that people are supposed to avoid.  Why is makeup slutty?  Even moreso why is promiscuity bad in the first place?  We don't punish men who go to the gym to get buff and look attractive so why look down on women who try to look attractive?

I got into a discussion about sluttiness and exposure of skin in general and I advocated the position that complete nudity should be acceptable in public.  Unfortunately I don't think I won any converts to my cause because I was talking with a group of older folks who have much more conservative views than myself but at least I kept the Thanksgiving conversation interesting.  You know it has been an entertaining day when you manage to have a conversation with a bunch of older relatives in law that covers the topics of:  Nudity, prostitution, marijuana, women's rights, promiscuity, child rearing, racism, politics and breast / penis augmentation.  Nobody fainted or ran away but I know they were thinking about it!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The problem with marrying 100 people

Elli:  I don't want to marry Kid at School any more.

Me:  Why?

Elli: He is mean to me.

Me:  Well, you shouldn't marry people who are mean to you.

Elli: But I want to have babies!

Me:  There are lots of nice people out there, you can find someone who isn't mean to have babies with.

Elli: Yes, I will marry 100 people!

Me:  Well, that is a lot of people and marrying 100 people might have some problems.

Elli: Yeah, because we would only have 2 beds and the kids get one bed and we have to stack all the people on the other bed and they stack up so high and then 2 girls get on top and then I get on top of them but all those people break the ceiling!

You heard it first here, the problem with marrying 100 people is that you all get into one bed and break the ceiling.  No other problems at all!

Baking is a precision endeavour

Often when the conversation has turned to cooking people talk about how experimentation is a great thing.  Generally the opinion goes that most recipes are almost entirely malleable and replacing things and altering ratios is a great way to find new and tasty dishes.  Of course, baking is generally accepted as a bit of an outlier because when you replace something in a baked good you sometimes just don't get what you want at all - a souffle with one ingredient changed is mush, not a souffle.

Today I was baking cookies and had the recipe book sitting on the microwave with one page flapping down.  I heated up the butter in the microwave, flipped the page out of the way... and added baking powder and a cup of milk to my cookies from the pancake recipe.  You might say that I should have noticed that chocolate chip cookies don't get a cup of milk, and you might be right.  On the bright side it turns out that cookies that have a slightly pancake like consistency and a bit of a milk flavour actually taste fine!  Perhaps even baking is just as amenable to random replacement and alteration - souffles excluded, of course.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I must control the internet

Over the past few years many countries have decided to pass new laws regulating internet usage.  The most hilarious, sad, and terrifying ones have generally had the common element of being extremely powerful sets of regulations and punitive punishments that have absolutely no basis in truth.  Britain has the infamous law that if you are accused of breaking copyright by three sources you have your household internet removed.  Note that this does not require proof, a court case or anything other verification, but only the accusation levelled by any three parties at all.  Given that government services are available online, that households have more than one person in them who might want the internet and that any group of jackasses could get together and ban anybody they chose from the net this is obviously batshit insane.

The US has a different brand of lunacy where big parts of the Republican party want the ability to shut down the internet whenever they want.  The idea here is to 'protect people from terrorism' by shutting down the transfer of information - ignoring the fact that it would completely destroy pretty much all economic activity and personal communications in the entire damn country at a stroke.  Of course they also want to have this power without any sort of oversight... somehow the fact that *anybody* in a country could shut down the entire country instantly hasn't shown up as a far greater threat to the country than any terrorist would be.  Imagine the havoc that would ensue when a single hacker destroys the internet for the US.

Now Italy had gone and brewed their own brand of madness.  They are currently debating a bill that would force any online site to post *anything* someone sends to them without comment or context if that person claims that the website's content was detrimental to their image.  So if I post that the Italian Prime Minister regularly hires many underage prostitutes for a single evening and tells them stories about how he is only a Prime Minister in his spare time (which is true, by the way) then I might be forced by law to post that the Italian Prime Minister in fact never sleeps with prostitutes and also is a world champion weightlifter, speaks 87 languages and spends much of his time helping orphans in Africa (which is false).  I will, in fact, have to publish anything he says and the truth of either my statements or his will never legally come into the matter.  This situation is so insane that Wikipedia has pulled their entire Italian site in response!  I have no issue with the number of (legal age) prostitutes the Italian Prime Minister hires but when Wikipedia feels like they can't even maintain a site dedicated to your country you have to question your own sanity.

I wonder if this is simply that legislators are generally so far removed from the internet.  They are, by and large, much older than the internet and have lived the majority of their lives in a position of power and the arrival of the internet provides a new set of issues that established power circles have great difficulty controlling.  Obviously there are exceptions but I would bet that these short sighted hamfisted attempts at controlling the internet are just crazy schemes cooked up by people who are unfamiliar with and afraid of the internet which is why they are so poorly thought out.  That, and corporate interests that seek to establish feudal domination of cyberspace.  Uninformed fear and the lobbying of multinational corporations makes for some really foolish lawmaking.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A limit on good choices

I just read a great article on making decisions and how our decisions change based on what we do during the day.  The idea is that people have a real limit to willpower and the ability to resist temptation and if that willpower is tapped during the day then later on we simply don't have the capacity to make good, informed decisions anymore.

The really useful thing I got out of this was the idea that you can actually make yourself into a better decision maker by simply cutting out opportunities for things to come up that drain your willpower.  All those little tricks we use to keep ourselves away from temptations like compulsive web checking, sweets, or whatever else that taunts us are actually powerful tools for improving the quality of our decisions and our lives.  Keeping yourself away from McDonalds, Facebook, chocolates or cigarettes can actually cause you to make better financial, emotional and personal decisions throughout your life as well as help with the immediate issues involved.  This is the sort of stuff that we should teach in schools as it is about one hundred times more useful to people than trigonometry or Shakespeare.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A little action on the side

I just finished The Ethical Slut - A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures.  I wasn't at all unaware of the whole topic ahead of time (Wendy and I have discussed exactly how open or closed we wanted our relationship to be many times) but this book really did give me new insight into the different ways that people view nonmonogamous relationships of all kinds and I found it gave me new, interesting ideas.  I used to have a dim view of polyamory in general but that has changed now, largely because of a better understanding of the options involved.  In the past I had viewed it through the lens of a 'lifetime partnership' lifestyle and saw it as not being particularly practical.  Not that I had a problem with people trying it but rather I just felt like it wouldn't work - keeping a two person relationship working is hard and often fails and doing the same with three or more people involved seems like a nearly insurmountable obstacle, particularly considering the non linear scaling.  The numbers bear me out here to some extent since long term polyamorous relationships are drastically less likely to last than monogamous ones.

This book talked a lot less about group partnerships with more than two people and a lot more about having all kinds of relationships of different sorts with different people.  This sort of thing makes a lot more sense to me.  You have a main relationship that usually involves cohabitation and/or fused finances and then any number of other relationships that can be anything from one weekend a year of sex to regular dating or anything else.  Clearly you are still going to have breakups and shakeups with that sort of open arrangement (just as serial monogamists do!) but there is a lot more flexibility to have enjoyable, healthy relationships with all kinds of people in the ways that make sense.  Just like I have some friends I could happily have as roommates and some which would drive me crazy it makes sense to me to have some lovers that you can build a communal life with and some which you just date - you arrange the relationship to fit the people involved instead of the other way around.  The Ethical Slut also advocates taking a very non traditional outlook on relationship length; rather than assuming that any relationship that ends is a failure you just accept that people will come and go and enjoy what you have when you have it.

Of course when I order this book in from the library it is bound to cause some interesting situations.  Thankfully Wendy is the type to find me reading this stuff amusing and expect a good conversation about the topic rather than panicking and thinking "Oh no, this book is going to tell him to start cheating on me!"  Even though we talk about this now and then we have never actually decided to open up the relationship - most likely never will, but things could change I suppose.  I really liked that The Ethical Slut never tried to suggest that polyamory was a better way, but rather just that there is a manageable, ethical way to go about polyamory that is healthy for all involved.  Do it if you want, or not, as long as you are doing what makes you happy and doesn't hurt anybody else.

I think there are a lot of people out there who would be a lot happier if they took the lessons in The Ethical Slut to heart and openly lived a polyamorous lifestyle.  Our culture (particularly Abrahamic religions) push monogamy really hard and many people have no idea that there are options outside that mold.  Unfortunately that leads to people who absolutely cannot manage monogamy either being unhappily monogamous or cheating, both of which are terrible.  There is nothing unethical about sex or love outside a committed relationship as long as everybody involved is informed and happily consenting; I wish that was something more broadly understood and accepted.

Does this video make you nervous?

Sometimes it is a bad idea to let a 4 year old cut your hair.  Sometimes it isn't, though, because with a shaver with the proper attachment loaded I can't really lose more hair than I am supposed to.  Even if I do somehow get shaved more cleanly than I wanted I can always just shave the rest even shorter to match - buzzcuts are nice that way.  And yes, I do get haircuts naked because it is so much easier to clean up that way.