Monday, May 30, 2011

I am going to get myself in trouble...

Lately I have been getting up to more trouble than ever before in my attempts to let Elli stretch her limits.  A few weeks ago she decided that on our walk home she wanted to take a different route than I.  This is a lot less crazy than it sounds at first glance because there on the four block walk home there are two paths - one runs along a major street and the other is a series of alleys and parking lots that runs parallel to the main road about 20 yards separate.  Letting her do the whole route herself seemed like a bad idea so I settled on having her go along the back alley while I went down the main street so that we could meet at the next street.  I figured we could cross each street together and go down separate paths between them.

Initially everything went well and Elli was extremely excited about taking a different path than I even though she was only separated from me for roughly a 50 meter walk.  The trouble started when we got to the last block where I sent her on the main street while I took the back way; on this block the back street had some parking and it would have been difficult for her to go by herself entirely safely.  I finished my block and waited for her at the street... and she did not come.  I wandered up to the main street and saw that a group of ladies had corralled her, obviously trying to keep her from wandering off on her own.  I walked up to the group and was treated to a chorus of "Um... she said her daddy was in the back alley?" and "We were worried about her..." but they didn't do anything as we wandered away.  I don't much like the idea of people interfering where they aren't wanted or needed but they were clearly just concerned for her.

The next time we tried the same experiment it went much worse.  Elli and I separated at the corner and I jogged down the street, through the parking lot and over to the next street.  No Elli.  I wandered up to the intersection and looked along the main street towards the spot where Elli and I had parted. No Elli. I could see the entire route she would have walked and any area she might reasonably have gone and there was nothing to be seen.  I walked down the main street almost to where we parted, still saw nothing, and then turned around and retraced my entire route.  I suspect a lot of people would be going a little bit buggy at this point but I was sure that Elli had just decided to be funny and hide somewhere along the way to play a game with me; she loves to hide under sandwich boards.  When I finally got all the way back to the spot where Elli and I had split up I found her standing at the corner with another older girl.  The other girl was happy to leave once she saw me arrive as Elli was really upset.  It turns out she was mad because as I had left she had decided to ask me a question... and because I didn't hear her she sat at the corner and pouted until I came all the way back.  We had a bit of a terse conversation about meeting people where you say you are going to meet them instead of pouting on a street corner and continued home.

I find it amusing to watch people on the street as Elli is running along.  They stand there and look around, hunting for the associated adult.  They hesitate, obviously wondering if they should step in and grab her or assume that since she is clearly going somewhere with a purpose that everything must be fine.  This, more than anything, makes me utterly confident in letting her do these things.  The world has a few really bad people in it to be sure but in a crowded place nearly everyone is worried about a little child they don't even know.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What to do after the bus hits.

Sthenno was over the other day talking with Wendy and I about our Hit by a bus (HBAB) plans.  This is not the sort of plan that is focused around what you do when *you* are hit by a bus but rather the plan to deal with your spouse suddenly being dead for some reason... like being hit a bus, say.  Obviously the plan starts with being emotionally devastated and grieving but eventually you have to pick yourself back up and decide what to do from there.  I suspect some people would find this excessively morbid or pessimistic, not to mention derisive of the 'one soulmate' type of belief, but all of us are very much Thinkers (in the Myers-Briggs personality type) and we all have our plans in place.  Both Sthenno and I had what I would call pretty typical HBAB plans where we talked about some girl we had met awhile ago that would we reconnect with but Wendy's HBAB plan was much more ... amusing.

GirlAtWork was someone I met a few years ago (at work, shockingly) and when I described what happened between us both Wendy and Sthenno thought that her behaviour was a bit questionable.   Here is what happened, judge for yourself.

GirlAtWork and I were both fairly new to the company and had a few interesting discussions over email about hobbies and other innocuous topics.  I was very attracted to her but did nothing overt to that effect.

GirlAtWork invited me to go out with her to celebrate her birthday - and the invite was sent to just me, not the whole team.

I declined the invite with the entirely true reason that Wendy was working late and I had to take care of Elli that evening.  I wished that this was not the case precisely because I wasn't sure if the invitation was 'come along to a party' or 'romantic dinner for two'.  Getting flirted with is *such* an ego boost!  No more invites followed.

I confirmed later that it was in fact a date and not just a party though nothing changed between us as a result of my declining.

Now, GirlAtWork had seen me on many occasions so presumably she noticed that I am wearing a wedding ring.  I talked about having a young daughter and may or may not have mentioned being currently married, I don't recall that exactly.  So did GirlAtWork do anything wrong?  Obviously if you are going to hit on a coworker who seems to be married you want to be a bit circumspect and she did that perfectly - but it is okay in the first place?

I am a bit conflicted on this point.  For one thing she has made no promises to anyone that would be broken if I were to cheat on my wife with her and she is not obligated to assist me in keeping all of my promises.  On the other hand becoming involved with someone who is married is usually a gigantic disaster whether or not they eventually decide to leave their partner for you and doing so generally shows poor judgement.  As such I don't have a problem with being involved with someone who would feel like my vows are my problem but I am not at all sure I would want to be involved with someone who was fine with being a mistress.  Given that, shouldn't I not be interested in GirlAtWork?

But it isn't that simple.  Back when I was younger I looked at the world in very black and white terms as most young people are wont to do.  These days I recognize the shades much more readily and I think about things with greater tolerance and a healthy dose of "I don't really know exactly what is going on anyway."  Maybe that married man in question is separated but stills wears his ring.  Maybe his wife has died, maybe they have an open relationship or maybe something stranger yet is going on.  It is certainly true that most men wearing wedding rings are either married and unwilling to have an affair (in which case circumspect flirtation is probably harmless) or married and willing to have an affair (which you probably don't want to be involved in) but there are a sea of other possibilities.  I got together with Wendy in a set of circumstances that would be right at home in the middle of a plot twist in a soap opera so I can certainly confirm that there are times when starting a relationship can be the right thing to do despite many signs to the contrary.

I suppose what it comes down to is this:  Pursuing a married person under most circumstances is not morally wrong but it is a bad idea.  However, showing interest in a married person to find out what the deal is and sort out whether or not there is a reasonable shot at a relationship is just fine.  A lot of the time you are going to find out that there is nothing but heartbreak there... but sometimes you are going to find real potential.  You miss 100% of the swings you don't take.  Of course, for this to work you need to be the sort of person who can get mixed up with someone and still say

"You are great, but you are married.  If you decide to get divorced then look me up.  Bye now."

and then walk away.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Buying votes

In the upcoming budget the Conservative party is set to eliminate the vote subsidy for political parties in Canada. The subsidy was introduced 7 years ago to take the place of union and corporate donations that were banned at the same time.  The idea is that each party which gets at least 2% of the vote gets $2 for every vote they get in a federal election.  The subsidy is being eliminated with the ostensible reasoning of 'stop voters paying for parties they don't support' but there is almost certainly a much more sinister motive behind it.

The big advantage of having the political parties be supported by the populace in an equitable fashion is that a party does not have to win the support of the rich in order to garner sufficient funds to run a campaign.  A party that absolutely has to get a huge number of large donations to survive must tailor its policies to achieve that and must spend much of its time and energy focusing on acquiring money instead of figuring out how to run the country.  Obviously this is an expense that many people feel unhappy about but it should be contrasted to the other expenditures involved in running the country to illuminate how little money it is.  Political parties in the last election got roughly $30 million dollars paid out to them based on this subsidy while the total cost of the election was in the ballpark of $300 million.  A lot of money either way but I think it is easy to support increasing the cost of the election by 10% to make sure that the parties involved can make their priority getting votes instead of entertaining or appeasing the wealthy.

The conspiracy theory that gets thrown around is that the Conservatives are putting this measure forward to choke the fundraising potential of their competitors.  No one denies that the Conservatives are in much better fiscal shape than the other parties in Canada (who are pretty much bankrupt as I understand it) but the reasons for it are a matter of some debate.  Conservative boosters tend to argue that the Conservatives just manage their money better but the other side argues that they cheat on donation rules and design policies to benefit the rich and balance their books on large donations from that quarter.  Whether or not the Conservatives are openly pursuing this policy with the goal of removing opposition to their rule is not something I can determine but I am completely certain they are aware that the consequences of this change will be seriously beneficial to them when it comes time to be reelected.  If this new policy would wreck the Conservatives' reelection chances instead of the other way around would they still pursue it?  Hard to say, but I suspect they would not.

What I do wonder is if this will be more destructive to the Liberals and NDP than they want to admit.  Right now we have a Conservative majority largely because of left wing vote splitting.  Back when Canada had two real right wing parties the Liberals ruled on high and now we are seeing the same thing in action the other way around.  When the finances of the NDP and the Liberals are shredded will they end up merging to try to put up some real opposition to the Conservatives?  We are a long way from crunch time right now since there isn't going to be another election for four years but it wouldn't shock me entirely to see that.  Their platforms aren't actually that different and once people inevitably get frustrated with the current government they will swap to whoever is available.  I don't like two party systems but we might be headed that way.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rapture

On the 21st of May God was supposed to come down from the heavens, raise all the dead of the world, take all the saved people up to heaven with him and scatter the remains of the other raised dead across the surface of the globe.  5 months after that the world would end after incredible suffering on the part of those left alive and unsaved.  You can read all about it *here*.  Shockingly enough nothing of the like occurred on May 21st and we are back to business as usual.  That is, except for Bart Centre, an atheist living in the US who managed to sell post rapture pet care to over 250 people for a hefty sum each.  The idea was that their down payment ensured that he would take care of their pets after they were bodily lifted into heaven for the 5 months until the world actually ended.  I weep for humanity.

This is nothing new sadly.  Every couple of years some religious nut manages to get a ton of people believing in their doomsday prophecies and the word spreads that said religious nut has puzzled out the date on which the world will end by 'interpreting the Bible'.  One other way to put it is that 'the Bible is full of random crap and when you take any bit out of context and redefine words you can prove anything' but nonetheless these doomsday prophecies never fail to draw an audience.  I think what people who fall for this nonsense fail to notice is that these prophecies are not new!  It isn't like people began talking about imminent doomsday a few years ago but rather more like it has been a constant for at least the past 2000 years.  Clearly there was doomsaying before that but the Christian sponsored variety, that mainstream lust for ultimate destruction, was not active until Christianity became a thing.  Look back at records at any time in history and you will find precisely the same thing we see now - some dude interprets the Bible in some crazy way and lots of people believe his incoherent ranting about the imminent end of the world and believe that the date he proposes is accurate.  Of course it doesn't *have* to be a dude but it shouldn't be surprising that from an incredible patriarchal religion most of the nuts who get attention are men.

It is much like the idea that the next generation is full of lazy, foolish, selfish, misbehaving malcontents.  People talk about how much trouble the world will be in when the next generation gets into the workplace / government / voting age / whatever and talk about this like it means something.  Just as with doomsaying the practice of assuming that every generation after yours is worthless is timeless and shows up no matter how far back you go. The Bible even supports it when talking about the end of the world where the young people don't respect their elders.  People have always had a huge blind spot that causes them to think that their own rebellion against their parents was inspired and noble and the next generation rebelling against them is a sign of inescapable moral decay.  It isn't surprising that people are fooled by the exact same arguments year after year, generation after generation, but it is a little sad.  We have the capacity now, more than ever before, to learn from the mistakes of the past and understand the intellectual traps that wait for us.  Unfortunately we don't seem to be using that capacity and probably never will.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I don't eat that

This past weekend I was visiting some friends who come from Europe but are living in Canada for awhile.  They had lots of interesting comments about our culture but one stuck with me in particular:  Canadians are incredibly picky about their food.  My friends talked about how in Europe when you invited a group over for dinner you would simply cook dinner and everyone would eat whatever it is you cooked - the very idea that you would turn down something the host was making or require them to adhere to your specific dietary needs was very strange. They found it hard to deal with the fact that any time they invited people over for food everyone would supply them with a list of things not to be served and sometimes they were hard pressed to be able to serve anything at all.

I sure know about that!  I have several friends that I would love to invite over regularly but it is an extreme challenge to find a dish in my repertoire that they would be willing to eat.  Ziggyny doesn't like vegetables or sauces so I think the only thing I make that he would willingly consume is fries and rice.  (Maybe fried fish?)  Snuggles is even more extreme in that he has a brutal set of food problems that include wheat, milk products, most beans, and at least a dozen more things.  InTheHat only really hates tomatoes but since I put tomatoes in virtually every dish I would have to get creative to serve him anything he would enjoy.  Of course I have to accommodate my own dislike of cheese and Wendy's dislike of pork and bird too...  This whole mess is the reason I decided to try to suppress my cheese hatred and learn to like the wretched stuff but that has been an utter failure.  Normally I am very strong willed when it comes to food and drink but I have been utterly unable to keep to a cheese eating regimen.  The crazy thing is this is all entirely aside from having to consider somebody being vegetarian, on a diet or *shudder* eating within the confines of the 100 mile local food regimen.

I suspect this wild proliferation of food constraints is largely the result of wealth.  If I was a subsistence farmer and beets were what my family grew I would damn well eat beets no matter how much I hated them.  I despise cheese but I would get over it if the alternative was going hungry.  Clearly if you go back a number of years everybody was on the 100 mile diet but these days it is something to do if you have a very strong desire to eat potatoes all winter and a lot of money to spend at higher end food stores.  We also can actually diagnose food problems these days so instead of people simply being sick all the time or dead they discover their food allergies or sensitivities and avoid foods instead.  This is easy to see in daycares as they have strict rules banning bringing in *any* outside food and whole categories of food are banned from being served for one reason or another.  As the proportion of our income devoted to food goes down and the amount of different options increases the ability for an average person to refuse to eat various things goes way up.

None of this explains why people in Europe would have so many less food issues though.  In theory they have very similar circumstances to ourselves so the only thing I can think that would make the difference is culture.  Perhaps the food being served is simply less variable so everyone is expected to eat the things everyone else cooks.  It might also be that food pickiness is simply not tolerated and people that hate various things just have to suck it up because nobody will cater to them.  It is hard to say.  I will say though that I sure would have a lot more dinner parties if I could expect everyone to simply eat whatever I made with gusto... now I just need to learn to love cheese so I can return the favour.  Blech.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Weird Al

I have lots of bad memories of primary school (Up to grade 8).  Most people have their "I was the outsider" moments of course as for many of us the school years were an endless series of hazings and putdowns occasionally punctuated with learning something or other.  One of the most revealing memories I have is when I was in grade 8 and my class was trying to put together a yearbook.  I wasn't remotely interested in the yearbook as I didn't particular *want* to preserve my memories of the year and presumably many of my classmates would have been perfectly content to forget me entirely.  However, the yearbook is supposed to contain entertaining and informative quotes from every member of the class so one of the girls involved in building the thing came to me to collect the requisite data.  Our conversation started roughly like this:

Her:  So, what is your favourite band?

Me:  Ummm.  I don't have one.

Her:  You have to pick one.

Me:  Uh, ok, Weird Al.

Her:  You can't pick Weird Al... pick something else.

Me:  But I like Weird Al!

Her:  Pick a real band, like Nirvana or the Chili Peppers.

Me:  -silent glower-

Things went downhill from there.  Thing is, if I had listened to all the bands without prior knowledge I might have picked one as my favourite that was acceptable to the yearbook committee but I was very biased... any band that the cool kids liked I automatically hated.  I liked Weird Al because he mocked all the cool bands and acted like a complete geek and yet was obviously really successful.  I had a simmering reserve of hate for all the cool kids who liked whatever band was considered most rebellious at the time and that hate spilled over to whatever they were into.  I reasoned that unthinking rebellion against the regime was foolish - picking favourites just to upset your parents was ridiculous in my view.  Of course choosing my favourites by rebelling against the cool kids mired me in hypocrisy but I was too young and too bitter to see that.

Today I was wandering around youtube and saw a wonderful video (seriously, watch it) by one Weird Al Yankovic.  I then was stuck viewing more and more of his music videos and wondering at the outrageous geekery.  This guy manages to spend his time writing the silliest of lyrics mocking whoever is big at the time and acting and looking like a Star Trek obsessed nerd without the most rudimentary of social skills and yet is hugely successful by any measure.  He has been making music for decades, has boatloads of money and recognition all while stealing the majority of his music from other people!  I may have been a clueless, hypocritical buffoon in grade 8 but at least my admiration for Weird Al wasn't entirely misplaced - I just got lucky that the thing all my peers hated happened to be something good.

There are plenty of people who geeks could take as role models but I think Weird Al is one of the best.  He does entirely his own thing to the extent that he practically has his own genre, he gets up on stage and acts in ways that are entirely ridiculous and yet he has thrived and endured.  You have something crazy you want to do?  Go do it!  Can you imagine the conversations he must have had when starting his career?

Dad, one day I am going to sing silly lyrics to somebody else's music and mock them the whole time!

Son, don't be ridiculous.  You are going to Law School just like we planned.

No Dad, I am going to act like a geek and sing songs about Pentiums and the Amish and Star Wars!

Son, don't make me lock you in the basement....

Weird Al, you rock.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reality is Broken - or not

Reality is broken is an interesting book.  From the taglines and reviews it is the sort of thing I would expect to really like but as is so often the case the devil is in the details.  The basic idea behind it is that the real world is very bad at entertaining and engaging people and that games and lessons from games can be used to make the world a better place because games are so good at entertaining and engaging people.

The trick is that the basic premise of looking at popular games to understand what motivates people and trying to use those motivational techniques for good works is a fine one.  Wikipedia is a good example of this; there are rankings and levels and fights and bad guys to fight and an endless world to explore... and because of this some 100 million hours have been poured into the project entirely by volunteers.  The problem is when the author gets overexcited and begins to overgeneralize and wildly exaggerate the facts, possibilities and potential benefits of 'gamifying' the real world.

The best example of this is when McGonigal makes use of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours benchmark for being good at things.  She suggests that since high schoolers these days are graduating with 10,000 hours of video gaming under their belts they are all prodigies at collaborating.  According to her hours spent playing video games can all be considered extensive training at collaboration with others.  I will admit that I learned a lot from leading WOW raiding guilds, recruiting and maintaining online relationships... but I also spent a hell of a lot of time murdering demonic cows in Diablo 2 and crushing enemy civilizations in CiV and those hours were not remotely useful for collaboration.  I would also suggest that I am by far not the norm in this; after seeing how fragile and disastrous most online groups are in nearly any game you can name I would say that collaboration is, if anything, greater outside of games than in.  In most games you can utterly ignore everyone around you if you want to and are rarely forced to compromise and negotiate, which are things that the real world has in abundance.  Not to say there aren't games that do encourage collaboration, because there are, but I would be shocked if you found that hardcore gamers are actually better at collaborating than nongamers.  When I think about the greatest lessons in collaboration that I have received they are all from situations where I was forced to work with a particular person on a challenging project where we did not agree on how the project was to be tackled and all come from real life.

There is also a heavy reliance on silly or meaningless statements like "Reality is stuck in the present, but games let us see the future."  What does that even mean?  This sort of thing makes me dismiss the argument entirely because it is based on generating good feelings with ill defined, ambiguous terms.  I could just as well argue that "Love is the greatest force in the universe" and aim for high emotional impact with no useful content.  The book isn't useless by any means - outlining the things that make people happy and elaborating on how to tap into people's unused energy in ways that benefit us all is a good goal and worth pursuing.  I find McGonigal's analysis of ways in which we can use games to hack our lives to make both ourselves and everyone around us happier to be intriguing and insightful.  In the end the book has many good points but they are drowned out by the overuse of repetitive examples and pretty but meaningless sound bites.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A life of reading online humour

Late last week I found Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for the first time.  Since then I have been maniacally consuming the years and years of comics and videos posted there punctuated by grinning, snorting and howling with gales of hideous, unstoppable laughter.  The comics are drawn by a man of similar age to me on the topics of religion, science, math and sex and reflect a worldview notably similar to my own so it is no surprise that I enjoy them so.  This desperation to read all 2,000+ comics and view all of the dozens (hundreds?) of videos got me to thinking about creativity and what sort of life is worth living.  A few times in my life I have found a new internet site and been inexorably sucked into it, spending days at a time reading everything ever posted there.  Xkcd, Sluggy Freelance, Order of the Stick and now SMBC all grabbed me and I could not let go.  These insane, temporary addictions are wonderful and finding people of like mind amidst the wasteland that is most of the internet is great but is this something that is really worth doing?  Particularly I was thinking about the situation of finding a brilliant webcomic that had literally unlimited archives such that I could look at them forever and the content would never run out - what would I do and what should I do?

I wonder if I would be addicted in the same fashion if there were no end in sight.  I have a drive to consume it all, see it all, experience everything but I don't do that for movies or TV shows even though there are some really good ones out there.  The biggest difference between these two situations is that even if I wanted to watch every really good movie ever I could not do so - there simply isn't enough time left in my life given how fast these things are produced and how big my backlog is.  Those projects simply feel impossible and the glorious feeling of learning it all isn't achievable.  When I am viewing webcomics though it is entirely possible to read every good webcomic I have ever found and the dates and numbers even tell me exactly how far through the list I am.  Maybe it has something to do with watching numbers get bigger and wanting to level up my virtual reading score or somesuch... I don't pretend to entirely understand my own urges.

I begin to think of how these authors turn their desire to entertain into a successful business.  I have no desire for commercial success and no drive to bet my happiness on the success or failure of a business venture so even when I do build something I don't really consider hunting for fame and fortune in the way that many do.  Given that, is there any point in creating the things I create?  If the goal is simply to pass the time and have fun then might I not be just as well served reading webcomics and watching movies endlessly?  The amount of good writing and interesting content on the internet might as well be infinite at this point given how fast it is produced so is blogging like I do even making anything better?  I guess I do slightly improve the signal to noise ratio but that seems like a pretty miniscule benefit considering the size of cyberspace.  The great Stoics would probably tell me that becoming the best person I can be is the most worthy goal of all but is that better achieved by considering the creativity and insights of others or by creating things myself?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I'm am fine, and how are you?

The obligatory exchange of

"How are you?"
"Fine, how are you?"

makes me completely insane.  The fact that so often my entire exchange with people I deal with is encompassed by these few words that pretty much boil down to obligation and lying makes my head hurt.  Imagine how I would answer this question if I had just suffered a personal tragedy yesterday like losing my job or having someone close to me die - I would say "Fine".  Then imagine how I would answer if I spent the previous night winning huge amounts of money off rubes while playing poker - I would say "Fine".  There are people in my life who I wish to discuss these things with but they rarely have to ask "How are you?" because they actually have some idea of who I am and can ask something topical!  They could inquire how my blog is going, what games I am playing these days or what grade Elli is in, for example.  Almost universally when someone resorts to "How are you?" it is an admission that they don't know anything about me and almost certainly don't want any information beyond "Fine".

Handshakes are the same.  The theory as I understand it is that a long time ago shaking hands showed that you didn't have a weapon in that hand and thus is was a gesture of mutual trust.  Whether or not that is true it certainly isn't relevant now and today handshakes are just a great way to pass on germs and annoy me.  There are plenty more examples that are the same way of course as my family in law demonstrates at most gatherings.  They have the hilarious unspoken tradition that when someone is leaving the gathering everybody crowds to the front door of the house for goodbye handshakes and hugs.  Of course because there is a mob of people trying to exist directly beside the door it takes 20 minutes for the folks leaving to just put on shoes and go while I stand there trying desperately not to order them all into the spacious living room where goodbyes could take place without causing an incredible traffic jam of people.

Ziggyny commented awhile ago that he absolutely hates mandatory gift giving.  I happen to agree but I think I take it a little further than that because I hate obligatory social rituals.  If I am seeing a good friend after a long time apart and I give them a hug (or a much more manly chest bump) it is an honest representation of my feelings and has some meaning.  The clerk at the grocery store saying "How are you?" on the other hand is the most absurd kind of timewasting ritual - it isn't like I am suddenly fooled into thinking they want an answer.  "How are you?" and the mandatory responses to it are just a way to fill space when no one has anything to say and somebody lacks the fortitude to remain silent.  I assume that these things do in fact nicely grease the wheels of social interaction and that for many people they are innocuous or even enjoyable but all I want is either meaningful interaction or simple silence.

How did I ever get into sales as a career anyway?

Monday, May 9, 2011


I am standing on the sidewalk glaring at Elli while she glares right back at me.  We have a long walk ahead of us and I have told her that she can have a ride on my shoulders for part of it - but not until she has walked 4 blocks on her own.  She has decided that walking 20 meters is plenty and now she is entitled to be carried the rest of the way home.  Somehow although I feel like I should be able to address this situation calmly and rationally I just can't and my mind is filled with twisted visions of punting a unruly child into traffic.  I have tried asking, I have tried giving her time to come around to my point of view and I have tried explaining.  Nothing has worked.  Finally I end up tossing her over my shoulder in a fireman's carry and walking down the road.  My mind churns with doubt - what exactly should I do?  She is screaming and wailing the whole way but would rather be carted than walk so I am really faced with either standing on the street corner until she is willing to move on her own, carrying her home over my shoulder or initiating some greater level of violence.

It is amazing how *trapped* this makes me feel.  I will not live my life as a parent a slave to my child's whims so I simply will not sit on the sidewalk waiting for her to decide to obey.  Never mind the fact that she would use this as leverage to do absolutely anything she wanted and make my life a misery but I would be entirely derelict as a parent; children must have boundaries.  On the other hand I absolutely hate the idea of constantly carting Elli around over my shoulder with her screaming and attacking me.  This isn't good for her or me to say nothing of the passerby.  Just putting her on my shoulders is just as bad since then I have established that she has absolute authority over my body and that tantrums on the sidewalk are a great tactic.  I know I can just grab her ear, twist it around and drag her along with me.  This is how things would have been done in years past and after a fairly short walk with her ear feeling like it was going to be ripped off I am confident she would walk on her own... but I really don't want to be inflicting serious pain on her multiple times a day to get her to obey basic instructions.

My natural inclination is toward demanding obedience by any means necessary.  Something very deep in my brain insists that she must obey and violence in the pursuit of obedience is acceptable.  This creates so much conflict because Wendy and I often don't see eye to eye on these things.  Wendy is the softy of the two of us and wants love, patience and a gentle touch to solve all problems while I instinctively play the hardass.  I know she would find ear twisting and dragging to be unpalatable at best and although I usually do things more her way than mine there are times when my spirit of compromise is very severely tested.  Is it okay to have a different set of rules entirely when Mom is around and when she is not?  How do I balance my own gut instincts and the compromises we reach when both of us are around?  The rest of the world has opinions on the subject but quite frankly it is challenging enough making rules between just two parents and one child - I have no intention of giving anyone else a vote.

I stand in front of a pouting child and I am thinking about the fact that she makes me so frustrated, that she has cost us $225,000 so far at age 4.5 (I calculated it one day awhile ago) and that she creates conflict in my marriage.  I need to be thinking of how to calm her down and jolly her along and my mind just can't focus on those things with all the messes swirling around in there.  The trouble with raising children is exactly this I think; you might be able to sit around and come up with ideal solutions but you don't make decisions in ideal situations.  You end up having to decide what to do when you are hungry, late, mad at someone else, and tired.  You fight because you are just so mad that the little person won't or can't notice that *you* need a little slack right now!  That slack and those ideal conditions are not the norm in real parenting though because children act up at the times you most wish they would not and then you must come to grips with the fact that you lack the implacable will and unending patience you imagined you possessed.  Child rearing is very much about good enough for right now and not so much about perfection, which is hard when you have as much of a perfectionist streak as I do.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Justice or Compassion

Since the election I have been wandering around the internet a bit to see what sorts of things people are saying about the results.  Of course most of the comments out there are the usual partisan talking points and have little enough of interest but I did find some intriguing patterns in the justifications people used for supporting their particular group.  The main thing I saw was that people supporting the Conservatives (right wing) were very often focused on Justice as the overriding reason for doing things and those supporting the NDP (left wing) focused instead on Compassion.  As an example the Conservatives support tough on crime laws that put more people in jail for longer while the NDP lean more towards rehabilitation and programs designed to prevent crime in the first place.  It certainly is just that those that commit crimes pay dearly for doing so and unjust that citizens who do not commit crimes pay for those criminals to receive benefits not available to those who obey the law.  On the flip side it is compassionate to accept that many criminals are not a danger and to try to give them all a chance to reform their behaviour and also to work as hard as possible to give people opportunities to not become criminals in the first place.  As another example right wing parties tend to be against gun control and yet support the harshest penalties for those who end up using those guns on others.

Obviously every society needs some combination of justice and compassion.  We generally don't think that people who speed or embezzle should be shot but we do think that some punishment should be levied against them - we are all searching for a middle ground.  It is a matter of emphasis, of course, a matter of finding the right spot where the punishment is significant enough to deter the crime but not so much that we end up destroying good people's lives for minor mistakes.  As far as I am concerned the trick to finding the optimal approach is to set aside these relatively arbitrary notions of compassion and justice and instead focus on the known effects of specific actions.  We know, for example, that the death penalty is not any greater deterrent to murder than life in prison.  Nobody commits murder calmly weighing the benefit of killing vs. the penalty of a lifetime behind bars.  If the penalty for murder were instead imprisonment for a month though I think there would definitely be murders committed where the murderer honestly decided their actions warranted the punishment.  What is necessary is to evaluate how significant the punishment needs to be such that nobody who actually believes they will be caught would commit murder thoughtfully.  We can't prevent murders of passion anyway so ratcheting up the punishment further is not helpful to prevent them.

That is the sort of thinking that goes on a lot in government bureaucracies but not as much in election campaigns. Calm, rational assessment of cause and effect doesn't make good press and doesn't get people excited about voting.  Invective about injustice and callousness make great headlines though and get people involved.  You can easily see this by looking at the sorts of things the NDP and Conservatives said in their platforms.  The Conservatives emphasized punishing those who are criminals and repeated used the phrase 'law-abiding citizens' to suggest that people who have not yet violated laws should be let alone to do whatever they please.  The NDP on the other hand talked about helping those who needed it and about protecting people who would otherwise be marginalized.  Neither justice nor compassion can be ignored when making laws and decisions but rhetoric based on only one or the other is a poor excuse for an informed, rational choice.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Canadian Election Results - Good and Bad

The election is over and the results are in.  As is so often the case there are some pieces of good news and bad news but unfortunately I think the bad outweighs the good this time.

Conservative - 167 seats - Majority Government
NPD - 102 seats - Official Opposition
Liberal - 34 seats
Block Quebecois - 4 seats
Green - 1 seat

The Good:

The Block Quebecois got ruined and is down to 4 seats.  Having a large party in the House which is explicitly dedicated to promoting one province and in fact to promoting that province's secession is a disaster.  I have nothing against Quebec in general but separtist parties getting 5% of the vote and having 15% of the seats is a real detriment to democratic rule.  I can only hope that next time around we get rid of them entirely instead of just marginalizing them.

The NDP got 102 seats out of 308 which is an all time high for them.  I think this is fantastic.  I didn't vote for the NDP but I think shaking up the old parties and and showing how well a third party can do with a positive campaign strategy is great.  Two party politics is a recipe for cronyism and corruption because you *know* you will get back into power once the people get sick of the current government so I heartily approve of a viable third party. I liked the Liberal platform better but I think everyone involved will benefit from increased competition.

The Green party won a seat!  Unsurprisingly it was Elizabeth May, the leader of the Greens, who won her riding.  The Green platform is incredibly narrow and they obviously aren't ready to be in charge of anything but I think that legitimizing them and giving them a voice stands to improve things in Canadian politics.  The power structure could not change based on the results of her riding but the perception of the Greens as a real party instead of a joke like the Pirate party or the Marijuana party is a good thing.

My party won in my riding.  The riding in which I live has been a safe Liberal riding for a very long time and nothing changed this election.  I voted for them because I liked their platform but as usual it made absolutely no difference what I did.

The Bad:

The Conservatives got a majority government much to my disappointment.  Despite numerous scandals and despite being in contempt of parliament the Conservatives got the nod to run the country in any way they see fit.  Mostly everybody was predicting a Conservative minority which would have probably been fairly short lived.  That would not be a great situation but it is much preferable to what we have.  Now we get to see exactly how Stephen Harper's Canada will look when he has total control over everything and doesn't have to please anyone but himself.  I expect a lot of really silly and foolish things out of this government like 'tough on crime, fill those prisons' policies and tax cuts that drive us further into debt.  What I really wonder about though is if we are going to see a lot of religious, right wing social policy like banning gay marriage or criminalizing abortion.  Neither of these things was part of the Conservative platform this time around but many of their candidates support them and many Conservative voters desire them.  Harper is a canny politician so he clearly knows how controversial these sorts of things are and knows that they might well sink his next election but we have never had the chance to see him with unfettered power before... who knows?

The Reason:

I think the simple reason behind the Conservative push is people's fears about losing their jobs.  Despite the fact that Canada already has incredibly low corporate taxes and the fact that corporate tax rates have been shown to have a miniscule effect on job creation Harper convinced Canadians that voting for anyone else was tantamount to being laid off because they would tax corporations more.  Harper simply used the greatest fear floating around in the country right now to leverage political power even though his party can by no means be considered better than the others at dealing with the object of the fear.  I personally am much more concerned about the legacy of debt we will leave behind in our quest to make sure corporations pay minimal tax but like it or not this is where we are.

The Silly:

Sthenno and I were talking about how Canada has both a Communist party and a Marxist-Leninist party (both get no appreciable votes) and he mentioned that this was a big problem because those guys just can't afford to split the very few communist votes that are out there.  Of course that isn't the case - they can afford to split the vote more than anybody else on the ticket because the results are identical either way.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Space battles - unlikely at best

I just finished rereading the Old Man's War series by John Scalzi.  It is at base a 3 book series about humanity a few centuries from now where our species has colonized a number of worlds and is in deadly combat with many alien races.  There is a 4th book which is a retelling of the events of the 3rd book from another character's perspective ala Ender's Game/Ender's Shadow and is also worth a read.  Like many futuristic settings it could easily be called science fiction but could reasonably be called space opera too.  It isn't nearly as space opera as Star Trek but isn't nearly as science fiction as Heinlein - it feels like a nice medium between the two.  Of course it has better writing and creativity than Star Trek and better characters than Heinlein's novels which is why I don't hesitate to recommend it if you have an interest in the genre.

The trouble with the series like many others in the space opera genre is that it relies on humans fighting aliens with rifles.  That doesn't ruin the experience thankfully but it does mean that it is hard to imagine the real world ever working out even remotely like the series does.  Even ignoring nuclear weapons entirely a modern army could wipe out an army of a million soldiers from 100 years ago without taking losses or breaking a sweat. Not only is this true but innovations are not flat year by year but rather are accelerating rapidly.  If we were to somehow be colonizing planets and cruising around the stars some time from now and we encountered another species the chance that our two civilizations would have even remotely comparable technology is laughable.  It would be nearly certain that they had somewhere between 1 million and 5 billion years of progress on us and as such could presumably annihilate us with the tiniest bit of effort.  For our technologies to be comparable they would have to be remarkably similar to us in terms of development, probably within a few decades.  The chance of that given that the universe is a solid 14 billion years old is remote at best.

If we continue to assume that colonization and travel through space is a reasonable proposition (which it emphatically is not at the moment) then we must assume that when we encounter some other intelligent race out there it almost certainly will be with a vast power gulf between us.  We are likely to either be facing people with effectively no technology at all who are stuck on their own planet or beings wielding technology that is so advanced it is indistinguishable from magic to us primitives.  Neither of these scenarios provides much fodder for great space opera though both would be very interesting as far as science fiction goes.  Space opera isn't very entertaining when we carpet bomb primitive species nor does it have much to say about us begging for tech from beings of godlike power.  It works when there are lots of species of variable forms with remarkably comparable technological progress who shoot each other up in flashy space battles and particularly well when attractive human 'space marines' pick up rifles and shoot at ugly bugs who want to eat their brains.

We aren't getting into space soon, if ever.  If we want to colonize someplace due to population pressure we would be far better off to colonize Antarctica than a foreign planet and no one is even considering *that* as a solution.  Spaceship Earth is our one and only home and the only place we are going to be shooting up aliens with rifles is in popular entertainment.