Monday, December 30, 2013

So pretty

It often disturbs me to watch adults deal with children, in particular girls.  I just got linked to an article about focusing on wardrobe and looks when speaking to young women and how damaging a message it can send.  
"You are so pretty"  
"You will be a heartbreaker some day"  (Why is that even a good thing?!?!)
"That is such a nice dress"
"That braid makes you look beautiful"

These messages are sent in lieu of actually dealing with what the girl in question wants or does and frame her value or lack thereof in terms of appearance alone.  Boys are rarely addressed in this fashion once they are no longer infants and quite frankly the incessant drone of "your baby is so cute!" is frustrating regardless of gender.  Who cares if the baby is cute or not, and since nobody says your baby is ugly even if it is the statement of cuteness is irrelevant.

One thing that is part of this whole issue is the framing of all things in terms of career.  If a kid draws a house, they must be an architect.  If they play spaceship, an astronaut.  To my mind this reinforces the idea that we are our careers and that all activities, no matter how mundane, should be framed in terms of their career advancement possibilities.  Sometimes a spaceship game is just a spaceship game; it needs no added purpose to be worth playing.

It can be challenging sometimes to engage with children because they can't usefully bemoan Rob Ford's latest antics nor offer an opinion on the latest large man on the local sports team to injure themselves on the field of play.  They can, however, talk about what game they like best, what books they have read, or what sorts of things they do for fun.  In asking these sorts of questions we make it clear we want to know what *they* care about instead of framing all interactions in terms of career and prestige which only the adults care about.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Paradise lost

Every year when I go to visit my parents during the Christmas season we end up watching The Muppets Family Christmas.  It has been an interesting saga over the years because my father tried to tape it from TV a long time ago and the attempt ended with some bumps and oopses - several key scenes are missing due to trying to cut out the commercials.  You hear that younguns?  Back in my day we used VCRs to tape from TV, and we liked it!  Since then several other versions have been purchased and we still watch the show even though the presentation is different in each version.  It is a performance laden with memories and emotions from a time long past.

This year I watched it with different eyes and was saddened.  I speak about the scene where Burt and Ernie are delivering Twas The Night Before Christmas dressed up as Mama and Papa.  Burt lost the toss so he had to dress up as Mama and was completely humiliated by the experience - not only was he desperate to avoid making an appearance but the audience laughed at him uproariously when he did come out.  It twists inside me that even though Sesame Street is so often progressive they felt it was obvious that a man wearing women's clothing was a despicable creature that everyone would laugh at.  After all, who would want to be like a woman?  Surely no one with a choice would tolerate such a thing.

I cannot paint the show with a blackened brush without getting it all over myself of course.  I laughed at Burt year after year as he desperately tried to avoid the shame of being in clothes designed for a woman; I am as guilty as anyone.  It is yet another event in the saga of my life where I wake up and realize what terrible things I have done, what wrongheaded beliefs I have held, what foolishness I have committed.  Next time I watch Muppets Family Christmas I will take that particular scene out, if only in my head.  I will substitute a scene where Burt strides confidently onto the stage and stares down the audience with a steely gaze instead, certain that his friends and colleagues would never shame him for how he dresses, gender conforming or not.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Celebrity law

Alan Turing has been officially pardoned.  Back in 1952 Turing was convicted of committing an indecent act, which more accurately was a conviction for being in a same sex relationship.  While it is a tremendous miscarriage of justice either way it is perhaps worth noting that the police chose to charge him after he reported the circumstances of a robbery.  They didn't even have the excuse that he was 'shoving it in the faces' of the rest of the populace.  Turing was a groundbreaking cryptographer and mathematician so there are many people who campaigned for a pardon for him for years; surely this must be a good thing.

This pardon is a good thing but it highlights the terrible fact that tens of thousands of other people, some of whom are still alive, were convincted of the same crime and will not be pardoned.  I am glad that the UK is finally acknowledging that Turing's conviction was unjust but it should not have been an announcement reserved only for the famous and talented.  Does the unknown person of whom history has made no note deserve a pardon less?  Shall we search the records trying to determine who is important enough to warrant justice and who is not?

There are good reasons to pardon a person.  "Was wrongly convicted" or "Was convicted of a an unjust law" are good reasons.  "Was good at mathematics" or "Helped us out a lot in a war" are not good reasons.  If we are going to pardon people who were convicted of being gay then we should start by pardoning all of them, not by picking celebrities off of the list for preferential treatment.  Access to justice being determined by fame is a terrible thing whether it be O.J. Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, or Alan Turing.  We all deserve justice and I truly hope this serves as leverage to convince the powers that be that codified, legalized bigotry is wrong no matter who suffers from it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

We all have to suck it up

My dad read an interesting story from a book he is reading to me tonight.  It talked about a cop who had a particular way of getting revenge on people who drove by him and yelled out "PIG!".  He would write up a fake parking ticket for them and then just toss away the portion that is supposed to go to the driver; eventually they would end up paying a ticket they never got or arrested for unpaid tickets far down the road.  We talked a bit about how we treat the police and whether or not they deserve special respect.

I feel like a key part of the reason that the police commit terrible crimes against civilians and get away with it is the sense that they are entitled to take revenge in this way.  If a bartender decided to fake a crime and try to pin it on somebody just because that somebody called him a nasty name we would roundly condemn it.  The same goes whether or not the profession in question is accountant, homemaker, or pilot.  However, when it is a cop involved some people feel they are justified in abusing their power to get vengeance for something as minor as an insult.

Police do not have a job that is unique in terms of danger; many jobs like fishing are vastly more dangerous.  Police do not have a unique position in terms of public service either - we would not accord the right to abuse the law purely for spite to a nurse or a postal worker.  If we want the police to act in a responsible and fair manner we all have an obligation to treat them just like we would any other citizen doing a job and insist that they treat each other the same way.  Any other citizen faced with a random insult simply has to grumble and walk away.  Police should do the same and we should hold their feet to the fire when they do not.

Contempt of cop is not a crime, just as contempt of salesperson is not a crime.  Cops need to learn that lesson and all of us need to make sure that they hear the same thing.  Only when cops play by the same rules that the rest of us do will they truly earn the respect of the population they have sworn to protect.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Overcome by curmudgeonliness

I just viewed and listened to a neat new video.  It is a rendition of Little Drummer Boy by a fantastic group of voice artists.  I was blown away by the the sound, particularly given that they don't use any instruments.

Seeing this really cracked open some of my prejudices.  I certainly enjoyed the video and I have a particular soft spot for this particular song of all the religious Christmas songs but still I had a visceral reaction, an irritation towards the subject matter.  I hate the idea of people treating a hereditary dictator with reverence but the idea of simply playing music, of offering a gift of skill and beauty, as a replacement for traditional gifts of cash and goods feels so *good*.

I think most people would tell me to enjoy a song I clearly like sung by a group I suddenly fell in love with and stop being conflicted.  After all, it isn't as if me being enraged by hereditary monarchy is going to realize any great benefit.  It is just a thing I do and while it is justified it isn't doing me any favours.

Then I found out that they specifically edited the song to reference "Little Baby" instead of "Baby Jesus".  I guess that really nails this particular case shut - time to just listen to it again without the internal grumping.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The teacher

Elli's teacher is retiring tomorrow.  It is fascinating to me to watch because it is such a powerful event for her.  She is a very firm disciplinarian, to the extent that many parents I have spoken to feel intimidated by her presence.  Needless to say she controls a classroom of small people vastly more effectively than I would be able to.  It has been a very interesting short while seeing her prepare to transition from teaching to retirement as her emotions shine through the unshakable aura of certainty and authority she usually projects.  It is obvious that she truly loves teaching and helping children learn and grow and that she is reluctant to give that up.  She combined that presence, that force of order, with a tremendous compassion and desire to see all of her charges thrive.

Over the last few days she has been giving away all of her classroom materials to other teachers and to the children - Elli acquired a Jacob's Ladder and a strange spelling block toy from her.  It must be a powerful and difficult thing to watch those you spent so much time and energy working with carting away the tools of your trade, the savings of a lifetime.  All those pieces carefully conserved for just the right moment, flying away to new homes where they may end up just tossed on the heap (or, of course, loved very much) and even though we all know we should not become too attached to things no one can deny the power of that event.

Often I hear or read the opinion that teachers are mostly just putting in their time, collecting their cheques, waiting for that golden pension.  There are teachers that fit that mold to be sure, but this one was certainly not paid enough for what she produced, nor can any reasonable person deny that she has earned a rest.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Die Rudolph Die

This past week Elli's school had their holiday concert.  Traditionally this is a concert that has the following formula - one class does Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, one does Jingle Bells, one does Frosty the Snowman, one does Away in a Manger, etc. but all the while everybody pretends it is a holiday concert instead of a Christmas concert.  This year was different, particularly the music teacher who managed to conduct the singers with his hands, sing the cues, and play the piano to supply all the music all at the same time.

It was, as usual, pitched as a holiday concert but the lineup of songs was completely different.  There was one song that referenced Christmas but was new to me otherwise, there was one song about Hanukkah, and the rest of the songs were all kinds of random.  Some people felt like it wasn't a proper Christmas concert but I bloody loved it.  I have heard about Rudolph and his bioluminescent schnoz about a billion times and I am glad to not have to hear it again.  I am also glad to see explicit acknowledgement that there is not just one holiday around this time of year.

It is nice to see that somebody finally started walking the walk.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas and this year it finally feels like that is a real thing instead of just being given lip service.  I celebrate Christmas myself but I am glad to finally go to a holiday concert where I don't feel like I want the traffic cop to pull out a shotgun and blow Frosty's head off to see if ambulatory frozen water requires an anthropomorphic shape to remain 'alive'.

The kids by and large are already completely subsumed in Christmas and they are glad for a chance to do something new and interesting I bet.  Personally if I want another bad rendition of a Christmas classic I will just go stand around a department store for an hour.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The end of mailman / dog jokes

Canada Post has decided that walking up to people's houses to deliver letters is a waste of time.  They are getting rid of that service entirely in light of the massive plunge in mail volume due to the internet and are going to deliver to mailboxes on street corners instead to save money.  They are also going to ramp up the cost of delivering letters to a dollar.  Many people are up in arms about this for a variety of reasons both fiscal and humanitarian but I have not yet seen a single argument that makes any sense.

The first argument that seems to be creeping up is that the elderly and disabled people will be unfairly inconvenienced by this change.  I find that very unconvincing since people with mobility issues currently have to deal with getting to a mailbox on all rural routes, in many suburban routes, and in fact for 66% of Canada Post's delivery service area.  It isn't ideal but clearly people figure out a way to get it done.  People are also upset that workers will be fired and good jobs will be lost but since all job cuts will be handled through attrition this holds no water.  There are endless choruses of "Think of the families!" which is both nonsensical and irritating - should be we unworried about single people?

There is also outrage over the cost of a dollar to send a letter.  Quite frankly the idea that a company will pick up a letter from a box near me, fly it across the entire country, and deliver it to someone in a far away city for a single dollar is absolutely astounding to me.  How much service can you possibly expect for such a miniscule cost?  There is also an interesting demand that Canada Post continue the money losing home delivery and make up the cost by becoming a bank as well as a delivery service.  I don't have any particular objection to post offices offering small scale bank services but I can't see why any new revenue generated from such banking should be used to continue to pay people to carry letters right to each person's door.

The age in which a person walks to your house to give you a letter is over, done.  Such information can almost always be sent via the tubes of the internet much more efficiently and cheaply and flying chunks of dead tree around the world as the standard of communication is heaving its last dying breaths.  It is time we moved on and thankfully Canada Post is moving with us instead of just following tradition and trying to foist the cost of doing so onto the public.

The mathematics of being a jerk

On Tuesday I was heading into the subway when I was faced with a snap decision - the doors were closing and I could leap towards the train and probably end up being caught in the doors or just stand there and wait.  In a move that should surprise no one I made the leap and the doors closed on me as I was halfway through.  They opened again of course as I squeezed myself onto the train and then a few seconds later we all chugged on our merry way south.  Then I began thinking about whether or not this makes me a jerk for making everybody else wait a few extra seconds to get on their way.

Obviously the inconvenience I cause to others is small but there are a lot of others being inconvenienced.  I estimated that there were two hundred people on the train and that my little escapade delayed their travel by about four seconds.  Eight hundred seconds of delay is roughly thirteen minutes of wasted time and since the next train is likely to come along in six minutes or so I wasted seven minutes of total human time.  Mathematically speaking it looks like I am a jerk.

There are complications of course.  If there is already somebody else getting caught in the doors and delaying the train then my aggressive move costs nothing and is entirely pragmatic.  This scenario seems highly unlikely given the particulars of the platform I was on but is not out of the question.  The more relevant issue is the probability that I make it just in time and avoid catching myself on the doors.  Clearly in retrospect that probability is 100% but when making the decision I did not know that; I knew for sure that I would get on that train but not how clean the entry would be.

I wonder if I am the only one who reacts to getting caught in train doors by counting the other passengers so I can determine if I am a bad person or not.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Science, misunderstood

I found an article on the bbc recently that pushed my respect for the average citizen even lower.  The article talks about how China is getting their space program in gear and discusses their plans to land people on the moon in a few years.  Aside from national pride there isn't much reason to actually send people to the moon but it is an endeavour that captures the imagination of the populace and gets them interested in science at the very least.  Then I read the comments and I became very sad indeed.

It turns out that some people are worried that the Chinese will start mining the moon and get ahead of all the other nations.  Whether this is framed as racism or nationalism makes little difference since the proposition of profitably mining the moon is so utterly preposterous.  The really sad part is that other people began to complain that mining the moon might have unforeseen consequences here on earth due to changes in the tides.  You see, mining the moon makes the moon smaller, and that will change the pull of its gravity on earth!  The fact that we would certainly end up putting more stuff on the moon to facilitate this mining then we would ever get off of it surely has never entered their consciousness, much less the fact that the moon is HUGE.  The moon has a mass of 7*10^22 kilograms.  Imagine we mined a quadrillion tonnes of random stuff out of the moon.  It would still have a mass of 7*10^22 kilograms!  A quadrillion tons is a truly absurd, monstrous amount and it is multiple orders of magnitude below being a measureable difference.

Then of course was a hilarious collection of ignorance surrounding people living on the moon.  People seem convinced that the earth is becoming so polluted and depleted that we will soon need to live somewhere else.  None of these folks notice that even if there is incredible runaway climate change and we dump nuclear waste in the oceans for funzies and we burn all the fossil fuels that all the other planets are a few hundred degrees to warm or cold.  And they have no air, or the air will disintegrate us.  Or they have no surface!  Or they have no water!  And they don't have things like fossil fuels and factories and homes.  They will never, ever, until the earth is vaporized when the sun goes red giant, be a better place to live.

And all these people vote and have ideas about how we should run things.  Ack.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Precisely two

I have written a lot over the past few years about nonmonogamy - that is, relationships that involve more than two people.  I have consistently found that the sort of people that write and talk about polyamory are the same as any fringe group anywhere in that they all have a gripe with mainstream society but the infighting between them is the fiercest of all.  For example, poly folks complaining about other poly folk not doing it right.  You know there is some real attention getting focused on polyamory because in an article about how Katniss Everdeen should be able to have two boyfriends instead of having to choose between them people complain in the comments about how poly folk are oppressing them and not respecting their monogamy!

There is a big trend towards talking about having more than the standard two people to a relationship but there is just as much of a need to talk about people who aren't in any relationship at all.  Both of those types are going against the grain but the perception of them from the outside is quite different.  People with more than two in their relationships tend to be seen as hedonists with no self control and people who are single tend to be pitied and regarded as unfortunate or broken.  Things go both ways though, as always; poly folk tend to view monogamous types as unevolved, ignorant, or repressed and singles sometimes characterize them as mired in commitment.

All these attitudes suck.  Obviously there are a lot of people out there who are desperately searching for their one and only soulmate because that is what the dominate cultural message pushes even if they aren't particularly suited to it and that is unfortunate.  The solution though is not to tell people that they have the wrong number of partners but rather to just keep on insisting that there is no right number.  Nobody should be saying that you need to have two in a relationship, nor should they be advocating more than two, nor one.  There is no number of partners that will make everybody happy and trying to set one, any one, is a disaster.

The simple fact is that different people have vastly different needs and what relationships they end up in depend greatly on who they meet and their current situation.  If allowed to settle out without any particular goal in mind people's relationships end up in all kinds of interesting places and there is nothing wrong with that.  Our entire society, both those in mainstream relationships and those on the wild side, need to accept that other people's relationships are going to be strange, incomprehensible, and different and as long as you aren't part of that relationship you might as well smile and nod.  Trying to interfere is only going to get you ignored, resented, or both.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Celebrity news

In celebrity news today, actor Paul Walker died in a car crash.  In related news people are very angry that everyone is talking about Paul Walker instead of the other person in the car.  After all, why are we so focused on the fact that a celebrity died instead of the less famous person beside him?

See, here is the problem.  Roughly one hundred people are killed every day in North America by car accidents.  Of course they don't get national attention; who could keep up with it?  Paul Walker, while completely irrelevant to me, was in a very tiny way relevant to many people.  They care a lot about the Fast and Furious movie franchise perhaps.  Regardless there is no uncertainty about why people care and why this story was reported - people would actually recognize the name of the dead person.  I don't particularly think that following celebrity news is a worthwhile endeavour but I can see the logic in printing the news of a celebrity's demise because folks, rightly or wrongly, want to know.

Also if you really want to draw attention to how nobody pays cares when random people die but do care about a famous person you really ought to consider that making a poster of the guy *who died in a car with a famous person* might not be the place to start.  You are doing it WRONG.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Kids and their music these days

Elli has fallen in love with Selena Gomez.  A year ago or so Elli was all about Justin Beaver (Yes, that is what she said, not a typo) but now she is all about Justin's ex girlfriend.  In particular Elli is obsessed with the song Naturally.  She loads up grooveshark and then asks me if she can play Naturally over and over again as she sits next to the computer singing snatches of music along with Selena.  I feel like I am missing out on a cultural benchmark in my life, the point at which I growl at my kid that music in my day was good and the crap that she listens to is no good.

Thing is I really don't mind Selena Gomez and I have been known to listen to a single song on endless repeat myself (usually Sandstorm).  I doubt very much that music obsessives will credit her with any great and lasting impact but her songs sound nice and are catchy.  I really can't claim any sort of high ground here either as the last time somebody asked me what my favourite artist was I answered Bon Jovi.  Which, I should note, was dangerous because my answer nearly caused the asker to veer off the road in amazement at my poor taste.  Don't ask me about music while driving if you really care about music.

Thankfully she does try to play her music too loud so at least I get to fuss at her to turn down the damn volume.  I don't have to miss out *entirely* on being a grumpy old killjoy.