Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Awhile ago I read about the psychology of warfare, specifically the reasons that soldiers stay in battle.  The basic conclusion that was reached is that soldiers in wars aren't especially loyal to their countries, their causes, or their commanders but they are extremely loyal to the soldiers that fight beside them, their comrades and compatriots.  When soldiers who have the option to leave the theatre of war for whatever reason return to fight they consistently cite the desire to defend and support those who fought directly beside them rather than any grand purpose.

It makes sense.  It is hard to keep a distant threat to a concept in a far away place foremost in your mind when you are stabbing someone to death.  It is much easier to keep in mind that killing that enemy and risking death yourself will help save the person directly beside you who you have slept beside, shared food with, and who faces an uncertain future shoulder to shoulder with you.  People make decisions based on immediate emotional impacts and in group loyalty much more so than any grand philosophical goal.

I feel like this applies in lots of other places too.  Our school Fun Fair is coming up this weekend and the volunteers are working like maniacs to make it happen.  They are at the school every day making posters, recruiting others volunteers, making plans, and doing everything else required to make the event happen.  Most of the core people are going to be working 8 hour shifts on Saturday in addition to all the time put in on other days and nights - can the money we raise really be worth all that effort?  At a glance it doesn't seem to me like it is and yet there I am volunteering to do it anyway.

In this I am a soldier in a war I think.  I volunteer to help sell milk now and again not because I think selling the milk is particularly beneficial but because I want to help out Milk Lady.  I volunteer to run the book sale at the Fun Fair not so much because I really care how many books we sell but because I want to help all the folks who are running the event.  They are good people and I like them; I want them to succeed in their goals and be happy.  I don't go and work because of the battle plan (make money for the kids) nor because it is the right thing to do (must support the local school) but simply because I want to fight alongside my fellow soldiers.

Monday, May 27, 2013

I am so high

The last two days have been really bizarre.  I have a cold and some very normal attendant symptoms - coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sort throat, etc.  Strangely it also seems to be making me feel like I have used a lot of pot.  All the same things are true - frame of reference discontinuities, a buzzing feeling in some random muscles, feeling munchy and generally happy, and general stupidity.  There is also that indescribable something that constitutes feeling stoned that I can't quite put my finger on.

If I could bottle and sell this I would be a gazillionaire.  People would object to the first part of the cold where you get a vicious sore throat and are drippy but there has got to be a big market for being high for a couple days without doing anything illegal.  Maybe that is too optimistic; I would probably only be a gazillionaire if I managed to somehow breed out the getting sick part of the bug and leave in the amusing part.  For most people it would be more of a problem I imagine since the average person has to go to work but I can afford to just take the time required to get past it.  My new video game requires enough brain cycles that I am pretty bad at it right now but you can't have it all.

I seem to be doing it all wrong.  I was at a stag on the weekend where I was cold sober and then I spent the next two days in a haze under the influence of some mind altering effect.  Shouldn't I be recovering from a stupendous headache and swearing never to drink so much again?  That, and wondering where exactly I lost my pants.  Thinking "yeah, the last time I was thinking really clearly was at the end of a bachelor party" is so WRONG.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Yesterday I went paintballing for Iolo's stag.  I have only been paintballing once before but it is an activity that I deeply love; the intense mix of competition, teamwork, strategy, and reflexes is amazing.  It can be a frustrating activity at times of course because paintball courses have two groups of people on them.  One group is using crappy rented equipment and the other group is using high end personal equipment and it turns out the good guns are a *lot* better than the crappy guns.  That disparity aside it is still a great time though the games often run to extremes; sometimes you get killed in the first ten seconds of the match and sometimes you get to play Rambo and mow down swaths of enemies.

Most of the matches my team lost or tied and my personal performance was reasonable though certainly not special.  I got my Rambo moment in though and it was a glorious, if futile, effort.  The referee had called one minute remaining so I decided to charge and do some damage (or, more likely, get killed right away.)  I ran up to an enemy building and then along it blasting randomly through the windows.  Somehow I managed to kill both people inside the building and then the one hiding behind it without being touched.  Suddenly I found myself behind enemy lines and I was able to take out another three enemies who were facing 90 degrees away from me and weren't even aware their position was totally compromised.  I got six kills in fifteen seconds and then ran out of ammo just in time for the game to be over and declared a tie.

I will let you decide for yourself if racking up a bunch of kills in the final seconds without influencing the game result is something worth bragging about.  I sure felt fifty feet tall and made of steel though.

One thing that bothered me was that the groom was dressed up in a crappy wedding dress as a form of humiliation.  This is standard for stags of course as the job of the people along is to get the groom stupid drunk and make him do ridiculous things.  Watching Iolo run around a paintball course with a wedding dress wrapped around him was pretty funny I must admit but he took it in very good humour and made the best of it.  The trouble is simply the assumption that it is utterly humiliating for a man to look like a woman.  If people were trying to humiliate a bride they would not put her in a tuxedo because it is not traditionally humiliating for a woman to want to dress like a man.

This troubles me.  I didn't say anything about it because I didn't think that it would really help anything and it might make the situation really uncomfortable.  I wanted Iolo to have a good time at his stag and since he appeared to be amused by the whole dress thing I just let it slide.  I suppose some folks might argue that it is gender nonconformity that was being mocked here rather than femininity but I don't think that is true and moreover that isn't better, just differently bad.  It does irritate me though and I wonder how much of a fuss I should make over such things.  Being female or feminine is not shameful and I wish I felt easier about publicly calling out sexist behaviour to help reinforce that notion.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Surveys are helpful. Sometimes.

Today I was at the Hospital for Sick Kids with Elli.  (Don't fret, it is just followup stuff from things that have gone before.  Nothing to worry over.)  I really appreciate how much effort they put into making things work for kids there.  I was concerned that the test we were going to do would be a problem because six year olds aren't as disciplined as adults but they were very supportive and obviously had a system in place that assumed the patients would be young kids.  Makes sense, of course, but it is such a relief to see that since normal medicine often doesn't work well for children.

They were doing a survey to find out how much money people spent to be there and how hard it was for them to get to the hospital.  Evidently they are interested in trying to reduce the difficulty and cost for families who want to go to Sick Kids - an admirable goal.  I had some information for them because my trip to Sick Kids was a frustrating and unpleasant one indeed.  I don't know that they found my recommendations particularly useful though.

First off, when I have to be downtown at 9:00 for an appointment with a child it is a mess.  People on the subway are completely jammed in because of rush hour and keep trying to mash into Elli because she is so short.  All they can see is an empty space and I had to keep telling them to stop shoving other people into my kid.  So my advice is this:  Don't be downtown, and/or don't book appointments that require travel during rush hour.

I would also suggest that they make sure to only book appointments on days when transit is running.  Carrying a child halfway across downtown because the subway isn't functional and buses have lines hundreds of people long is poor and causes sick adults to become grumpy.

So yeah, get to work on that guys.  Fix transit and move your hospital next to my house or something.  Other than that, good job I guess?

Monday, May 20, 2013

The freedom to be annoying

Reading the Dan Savage article from this past week made me think a lot about how our freedoms often end up causing trouble for other people.  The scenario he wrote about was straight drunk women making out with each other in clubs or bars to attract men and particularly how this makes some lesbian and bisexual women angry.  The comments after the article were all over the map but the two main camps seem to be centered around arguing either women's rights or freedom of expression.

I can definitely see the issues with women's rights.  When women make out with each other just to titillate men the men in question likely do feel that the stereotype that women's sexuality is just for male entertainment is being reinforced.  It is important that men come to see women's desires and their choices in sex to be independently valid and important regardless of the impact it has on a man.  The trick is that I think this isn't a problem with the drunk straight girls so much as a problem with the men.  We don't need to force women to stop making out with each other.  What we need is to educate the men so that they see it as fun play instead of a show only for their benefit.

We all need the right to do whatever we want sexually speaking with other consenting adults.  Gay folks didn't have that right for a long time and still don't have it in many parts of the world.  Even though drunk straight women may cause trouble for other people their right to do so unmolested is critical to the attitude that everyone can do what they want.  It is similar to my strong feelings on freedom of religion in the sense that although religion is wrong I want that freedom to be very strongly enforced so I won't lose my freedom to *not* be a particular religion.  Same thing applies to sex; any time you agitate for somebody's sexual expression to be controlled you give the censors more power to prevent *your* sexual expression.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Oh my aching back

I have memories of learning to ride my bike without training wheels for the first time.  I recall zipping along the road with my dad behind me holding onto the bike seat to keep me from falling.  I know that I did fall a few times but it didn't take long before I picked up the skill and was riding around everywhere.  I am sure I whined about it ahead of time and didn't want to take the risk of removing the training wheels - I was that risk averse sort of kid.

This week Elli drove her bike to Sparks and on the way back somehow we damaged a training wheel.  I can't tell if it was gradual leaning or a sudden smash but either way suddenly one of the wheels was tilted very much sideways.  I ended up on the sidewalk trying to bend the steel back with my bare hands.  I got it back in place enough to ride but not enough to work quite right.  The rubber on the training wheels was already half gone so I decided it was time and tossed them.  Elli had to join the big leagues, like it or not.

Over the past couple days she has been riding to school and back.  Initially I figured this would be fun but it has been absolutely killer on me.  In my memories my parents jogged behind our bikes comfortably and easily keeping us up.  In my reality though I am bent nearly double trying to hold on while Elli careens across the sidewalks and I am learning just how hard it is to run in that position.  She takes great glee in riding really fast and I end up doing a crazy crabwalk half-run along the street trying to keep up with her.  I don't remember my parents complaining about how awful this is but perhaps they were simply in better shape than I am.

I also don't remember them having to worry quite so much about me crashing into things.  I learned on a dusty dirt road with nothing to be seen in either direction and Elli is learning on a crowded sidewalk at rush hour.  We zip between buildings and pedestrians with no space on either side and I have to practically stand on top of her for the two of us to fit through the gaps.  Then she almost crushes me into a pole after trying to drag me into the street in front of a car.

I need a big ole green field.  That, and a new back.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I love the big meat

I don't normally get steak.  For one Wendy doesn't much like a meal that revolves around a huge chunk of meat.  For two big steaks are expensive.  For three I feel like eating huge amounts of meat is a bad idea from an environmentalist perspective - I should eat just enough meat to be happy and then load up on veggies.

My mom was in town a few weeks ago though and heard me talking about how I never eat steak or roast and decided to buy me a big ass chunk of meat.  She is awesome.  Wendy is out tonight so it seemed like the ideal time to cook up my big meat.  It was odd though because I have never actually cooked a steak before.  My usual Internet Aggregate Cooking method doesn't really work here because I am not mixing ingredients so I relied on the advice of some ladies at school to get my cooking instructions.  I know that as a man asking a woman how to cook meat is problematic; it violates the Man Code.  I am supposed to know these things just based on DNA alone.  Please don't take my Dude licence away!

Elli only wanted pasta so this is the amount of meat I was cooking up for myself:

I should note that this is a really seriously thick steak too.  I gave it a go and seared the steak and then broiled it as per my instructions.  My favourite thing to pair with a steak is potato with tons of butter, salt, and pepper so I cooked that up too.

It turns out that after eating half of the potatoes I cooked and 1/4 of the steak I was absolutely stuffed and feeling like my stomach had a close encounter of the cement kind.  It tasted great but it was a dinner of a weight I am not accustomed to.  The great side is I have enough steak to have it for my next 3-4 meals at least.  Steak and potatoes, steak sandwich, steak on bagel, the possible variations are endless.  Yom yom.  I guess I can advertise that I now know how to cook a steak.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dangerous purple rock

A purple rock ended up on my desk.  It was very small, about the size of my finger from the last knuckle to the tip, as well as being bright and shiny.  Being that I am a compulsive fiddler (not to be confused with someone who actually knows how to use a fiddle) I constantly played with the rock, rubbing it between my hands, tossing it, turning it, and polishing it.  I would regularly tap it against my lip or chin while thinking about my writing or while reading online.

After a short while the rock began to invade my thoughts.  I worried that I would accidentally end up swallowing it and choke on the rock and die.  My imagination wound up being very concerned with whether or not I could give myself the Heimlich maneuver in order to dislodge a rock from my windpipe.  I wondered if I dialed 911 but could not talk if they would show up and save me or just ignore it.  There were moments of hilarity where I thought about people hearing the news of my death and the confusion when everyone wondered how the hell I choked to death on a small purple rock while sitting at my computer desk.

I threw the rock in the garbage.  Now it is gone.  I don't have a purple rock to play with anymore but I no longer have any worries about accidentally putting a rock in my mouth and dying.  This is strange since there are lots of rocks of virtually identical sizes sitting in the plant pots within my reach as I write this; I could very easily start fiddling with one of them but for some unknown reason I do not do this.  Apparently my strange little episode with obsession over a rock is done and I am back to fiddling with pens again.

People are really weird.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Bad data

People who use crappy data to support their claims make me crazy.  In theory people reporting on events in major news publications would at least make a cursory attempt to verify data that at a glance makes no sense whatsoever but theory is, in this case, not very similar to practice.

Today's example is the age at which women enter into prostitution.  I keep seeing articles popping up on Facebook about how prostitution needs to be cracked down on because the average woman getting into it does so at the age of 13.  This is obviously completely preposterous; plenty of women get into it in their late teens or early 20s (not to mention later...) so there would have to be huge numbers of 8 year old prostitutes running around.  Have 8 year olds been used illegally for sex?  Yes.  Are they a major demographic in prostitution?  NO!

I followed links and discovered these articles tended to cite other articles talking about how the magical number 13 was the average age at which prostitutes were trafficked into the profession.  Again, this still implies that there must be a very large number of girls being brought in at ludicrous ages and that simply bears no resemblance to the truth.  The vast, overwhelming majority of prostitutes are adults and would not tolerate children being abused this way.  Most people freak out when kids are abused and this just in - prostitutes are people.

I finally figured out where the magical 13 came from.  It turns out that when underage girls are trafficked into prostitution the average age is 13.  So yeah, for girls that are illegally forced into it who aren't 16+ the average age is 13.  Which means approximately nothing in terms of the great majority of people who get involved with prostitution.

And that is how people who want to crack down on prostitution use numbers drawn totally out of context to justify their ridiculous position.  You don't help people by criminalizing a harmless profession.  You don't fix things by putting marginalized people in jail.  You fix it by legalizing it, taxing it, and regulating it.

If only using science this badly were limited to just this one issue...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

You will be gross and then you will die

I have been reading You Will Die, a book by Robert Arthur.  It seems custom built for me since it has the delectable combination of denunciation of religion, trashing of right wing moral politics, and frank discussions about sex and drugs all from a historical perspective.  The book is about taboos and talks at length about a variety of taboos against things like sex, snot, farts, poop, drugs, prostitution, and other things that we aren't supposed to talk about in polite society.  The basic premise is that we need to be careful what we do and how we regulate our society and the best way to do that is not by making decisions based on tradition but rather on facts instead.

Arthur presents each topic not as a rant about what the laws and norms should be but rather as a list of what they are, what they used to be, how we got from there to here, and what science and medicine tells us about the topic at hand.  He does go pretty hard against religion and blames it for much of the current misinformation and stigma associated with sex and drugs in particular; it is rare to find an author that decries religion even more stridently than I would.  That said, the book is well written and informative and honestly he presents a pretty strong case that religion has made a real mess of things by trying to police individual lifestyle choices in essentially random ways.

It isn't a fun book.  Reading about medieval torture mechanisms and facing just how foolish we all are every day to appease completely random and sometimes devastating social norms is depressing but valuable.  Learning all this isn't going to be a magical journey filled with rainbows and unicorns but accepting it and improving ourselves through critical thinking will make us better people and slowly but surely contribute to the freeing of society from pointless shackles.

Not everything is depressing, to be fair.  The sections on farting and spitting make our taboos seem silly but I don't feel like lifting them would actually change much.  The demonization of drugs and prostitution and the corresponding disaster that is the War On Drugs and the criminalization of sex on the other hand are both serious and important.  Regardless of the level of entertainment provided the information contained within is critical and I recommend everyone read this book even if only to skip to the most interesting and relevant parts.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The weather is awesome.

The weather lately has been awesome.  20 degree days with empty skies makes for a fantastic time.  It is hot enough to go out in shorts and tshirt but not so hot you can't run, play, and be active very comfortably.  We went to the park today and it was ideal - Elli zipped around on her bike and ran with other kids while I hung out and shot the breeze with some friends.  Sitting in the sun so much got me just a little bit of a burn, enough that I will be stronger against the sun in a day or two.  That first minor burn sets me up for immunity if I do it right!

Of course there are other consequences to great weather.  Your friendly neighborhood noncomformist will tend to decide to crack out the kilt and ditch the shoes.  Thankfully the school has decided to just ignore my bare feet now and thus I can go mostly wherever I want; the only two places that require shoes I really don't need to visit anymore.  This year I am going to try to avoid being macho though and I will endeavour to only go barefoot when it really is more comfortable.  In the past I tended to just power through it with a ralling cry of 'for freedom!' but this year it is all about doing what feels good rather than some kind of potentially misguided cause.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I think I am a little bit drunk

Last night folks planning the yearly Fun Fair at Elli's school went out together to do a bunch of organizational work.  The best way to do that sort of thing is to go to someplace where you can get dinner and drinks with your work and we should always do things the best way, no?  I was the odd one out being both the only male in the group and also the only one not ordering any alcohol.  Well, that and I was barefoot and came in carrying a whole pizza... I don't like to blend, ok?  At least I provide the ladies with entertainment.

It is a bit strange being around a group where everyone is drinking (very lightly, mind) and not indulging myself.  People tend to look at me strangely wondering why exactly I don't take part in the festivities myself.  They are possibly worried that I am judging them or wondering if I am a recovering alcoholic or something but the answers are stranger than that.  For one I hate the taste of alcohol and for two I feel like I am drunk all the time in a lot of ways.

Once they get a few in them most people start being much more open to talking about taboo topics, exude overt sexuality, and reveal secrets about themselves.  People being to start their sentences with things like "Okay, so there was this one time with this guy/gal and we were SO drunk..."  I love that stuff all the time.  I am very happy to discuss the most personal topics on the drop of a hat and I find conversations about sex, relationships, and such endlessly entertaining without a drop of booze in my system.

This tends to mean I love being around drunk people because they act the way I want to act all the time.  The drunker they get the less I have to edit myself and the more open and honest I can be.  When everyone else has a drink or two and their filters and inhibitions begin to melt away I fit in better and have a wonderful time.  Me getting drunk doesn't help much in this regard - I mostly just get really damn loud and that isn't much good to anybody.  The inhibition that alcohol removes in me is just my volume control and I don't think other people are really sitting around wishing I would just shout more; they get plenty of that when I rant cold sober.