Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Smooth fighting

Massive spoilers for Star Wars incoming.

I think I have a weird thing with action movies.  I have watched a few recently and had really strong feelings about them that nobody else seems to share.  The thing that is really getting me is how important action scene continuity is to me to maintain interest in the movie.  I really need action scenes to make sense, to flow, for the consequences of them to feel real.  I also respect an action scene that transitions from stage to stage in ways that keep things new and surprising while maintaining the flow of the story.

That doesn't mean the scenes have to be 'realistic'!  Star Wars has lightsabers and faster than light travel and blasters and sound in space and all of that is ridiculous but it is all part of the base assumptions.  The world has weird magic and violates physics in these specific ways and that is all fine.

The problem is when even if you believe in those standard sillynesses a battle scene doesn't flow.  The easiest example I have of this is a battle scene in The Force Awakens where TIE fighters fly in and begin blasting away at a bar / ancient stone temple.  Firstly they are supposed to capture a particular thing intact, and leading off with random mass destruction really seems like a good way to blow up the thing you are trying to find.  As the battle progresses, the cavalry arrives in the form of X Wing fighters from the rebellion that fly in and blow up all the TIE fighters.  Then, having blown up said ships, they start picking off random Stormtroopers.  Kind of ridiculous when you consider how hard it is supposed to be to hit tiny targets (and how much trouble they have hitting huge targets) but whatever.  Team Good is winning, huzzah!

Then Team Evil decides to kidnap Rey.  They do this by leisurely carrying her onto their ship, flyinig up into the air with a static formation of TIE fighters, and meadering away.  No X Wings follow them, blow them up, or seem particularly interested at all.  What the hell is going on?  Why did Team Good, having swung the battle in their favour, decide to just ignore the enemies?  Then more Rebel ships land and their general hops out of the ship.  Because you need your general to be on the front lines, to make completely sure that if the battle goes badly or something weird happens then she can die and really screw everything up.

It bothers me because I can't feel invested in a battle, can't be immersed in it, desperately wondering at the outcome, when I know that the course of the battle will be randomly ignored at any given moment.  Who cares if the X Wings win the fight if the fact that they are winning will be completely ignored a couple of frames later?

This isn't the same as pulling a star inside a planet.  That is ridiculous, but at least changing it would require a lot of work.  The stupid battle scene isn't like that at all!  They could have, at no extra cost, had the ship containing the prisoner zoom off under heavy fire while its few escorts were demolished by the X Wings.  Set it up so that that one ship gets away because of the delaying action of the last few TIE fighters available.  That makes the story of the battle make sense, and people get the gut punched feeling of 'we won, but at what cost?'  At least the X Wings showing up was relevant!  If they are just going to be ignored, then why try to have their arrival be a big thing in the first place?

People are generally giving The Force Awakens good reviews.  I can see why.  The acting is solid, the scenes at the beginning are great, and there are a lot of good references to the original series and the events in between.  But damn folks, if you are going to write a battle scene at least write it so that the big turning points of the scene end up *mattering*.  When you don't have to give anything up to make a scene better, do that!

If you fail to do that you might as well not have the battle scenes at all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A dangerous world

I have been watching the Netflix series Narcos over the past little while.  It is a partly true, partly fictional account of the drug wars in Colombia in the 80s, focusing primarily on a group of American Drug Enforcement Agency agents and the richest criminal ever - Pablo Escobar, a kingpin of the cocaine smuggling trade.

It is a sad tale.  The characters' individual dramas are mostly just made up but the facts about the thousands of people who died in the drugs wars are not.  While the two police officers we saw gunned down were made up, the fact that killers financed by Escobar were randomly killing cops for reward money is absolutely real.  The fact that the drug cartels were randomly bombing streetcorners just to terrify the populace into giving in to their demands is real.  In a move that truly defies reason, the government actually did let Escobar build his own prison and guard it with guards he hired while he ran his empire from inside... and since he built his own prison it wasn't a prison so much as a resort.

The thing that really gets me is how in that world the government was not the leviathan it is in my life.  Sure, you can try to avoid your taxes or yell about how politicians suck but you don't actually *attack* the government - you will get yourself crushed!  In Colombia then the drug lords really did fight the government, and in a lot of ways they could be said to have won.  It is a completely different world when it is plausible for someone to challenge the total authority of the government and be taken seriously.

I have no sense of what that would be like.  How do you live in such a world?  Obviously many people do, right now, but watching this show really hammered home just how different that would be from my current way of viewing things.  What do you do when someone randomly declares that they are going to murder government officials and then does just that, and then gets away with it?

You have to give Netflix some credit in that they don't portray the government and the US agents as all good people.  The American influence is clearly a mess, and the drug war making cocaine both incredibly profitable and only available from criminals is the real source of the problem.  The cartels are clearly the worse of the two evils, but both sides commit atrocities and trample on bystanders in an attempt to win their war.

What I can't figure out how to judge is the constant use of anti gay bigotry in the speech of the characters.  I am sure that members of the Colombian drug cartels would have used slurs against gay people as their insult of choice, so the 'realism' element checks out, but the writers could have simply used other words.  You can call somebody an asshole or a rat bastard and get the same point across.  I don't think there is a real need to use that as much as they did, for certain.

They sure live in a world I don't understand... and I am glad of that.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The fun stuff

My Kickstarter for my board game Camp Nightmare is trundling along, but it isn't going quite the way I thought it would.  I designed the Kickstarter around the idea that I would get 500 copies of the game made, figuring that most people would want just 1 copy.  I know that lots of Kickstarter campaigns offer cool stuff for backers if they pledge a lot of money so I decided to offer the option to name a card after yourself or to craft a card from scratch that would ship with the game.  I figured I might as well put those up there just in case, but I wasn't at all sure anyone would be interested in dropping several hundred dollars on them.

Turns out I misread my audience in a big way!  Half of the big ticket backer options are already gone, with 3 people wanting to name a card and 1 wanting to design one.  However, I have only acquired 9 backers for the basic amount, which is $20 for the game and $20 for shipping to Canada.  That surprised me greatly, and I wasn't at all sure what to think of it.

It does mean the financial side of things doesn't look the way I expected either.  The amount of money I have backed is much higher than I expected given that I have only got orders for 43 games and have $2875 dollars pledged.  So there are some people that have shown great interest, which is great!

Unfortunately I need to ramp up the general interest in the game a lot if I am going to hit my target.  I have 17 days left, and I need to get orders for another ~450 games to make it a go.  27 games / day is a lofty goal considering that most Kickstarter funding tends to come in the first few days and slows greatly by the end.

Only time will tell!

My brother backed me for the 'create a card' option, and he wants this picture to be the basis for the new card.  I don't yet know what it will do, but it certainly fits the theme:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A swing and a ...

Over the past sixteen months I have been building a game called Camp Nightmare.  It is a co-op game for one to six players that is about a camping trip gone horribly wrong.  Everyone has to work together to try to survive a terrible series of mishaps and endeavour to have as much fun as possible along the way.

Yesterday I hit the big GO button for my Kickstarter campaign to try to get a bunch of copies of the game produced.  Basically I had two options from the outset:  A game with less stuff, but which I could print a smaller number of copies of, or a better game with more stuff that required at least 500 copies.  The Kickstarter is my attempt to make the second option work.  It will allow me to make the game just the way I want and to look as pretty and professional as possible.  However, it remains quite unclear if I will end up succeeding in getting that many people on board.

If the idea of a co-operative camping game appeals to you, the Kickstarter page is Here.  There are simple options where you get a copy of the game mailed to you, but if you really want to get involved and have your name on a card in the game or even design your own card that is available.

I already have one person excited enough to back the 'name a card after you' option, which seems fantastic as a start.

I am a big bundle of nerves and energy, a combination of worry about costs and taxes and hassle combined with excitement that I am finally trying this.

Here are some pictures from the game.  As you can see the art is already done and it looks superb, so the only thing left to do is to get production going with one plan or the other.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Opportunities lost

This morning Elli and I were talking about one of the books she is reading called The Miserable Mill.  It is part of the Series of Unfortunate Events series wherein the villain, Count Olaf, repeatedly puts on ridiculous disguises in an attempt to steal the inheritance of three orphans.  We were talking about how difficult it would be for Count Olaf to successfully convince people he was female for one of his alter egos and Elli was giggling about his pink nail polish when I mentioned that one of the things that might make this difficult is disguising his adam's apple.  Mine is fairly prominent so it would definitely be a thing that would make this sort of disguise difficult for me... among the many other things that make a rail thin 6 foot 4 man look decidedly male.

Suddenly the conversation veered into more interesting territory as talk of adam's apples brought up the term puberty, and Elli asked me what puberty means.  As is often the case with these kinds of questions the answers brought up more questions and suddenly I found myself flailing about trying to answer all of the things in just the right way.

It is really important to me to do this right.  When I answer questions of this nature for Elli I want to give her accurate information and make sure that I give it in a way that she can understand.  I have to tell her the truth so that she comes to understand the subject correctly, which sometimes involves swimming myself around in circles trying to find just the right phrasing.

At any rate I ended up explaining body hair, voice changes, and hips and breast development easily enough but then when I mentioned menstruation I realized I had another whole kettle of fish to deal with.  Elli was aware that having a period is a thing but apparently didn't really get that it was something that will happen to her.

No problem.  I can give the really fast 3 minute explanation of menstruation on the walk to school, sure!  I have to make sure I cover both the reasons (eventual babymaking capacity), the changes that will happen, and also the basics of how you deal with it.  Time being an issue, I decided that I would explain maxi pads but not other methods of dealing with menstrual blood - I really want her to understand that there are solutions for dealing with menstrual blood and that while it won't be a party it is a problem society has found tools to deal with.  Elli in particular really just needs to know that practical solutions to the concrete problems have been worked out... the existential questions really don't seem to enter into it.  (When talking about the remote possibility of Wendy and I dying, she really just wanted to know for sure that somebody would come pick her up and take her to her aunt and uncle's place to live; she wasn't especially fussed about the deaths themselves.)

Unfortunately for me the conversation kept unfolding and new angles continued to pop out.  Elli said that she didn't want to menstruate... which I hadn't really mentally prepared for as an objection.  I mean, sure, I don't want to menstruate either, but somehow that wasn't the thing I thought she would say!

My response was reasonable but uninspired, since I mostly just said that yeah, it can be a scary thing, it is a while off, it will end up being fine, but it is not something you can get out of.  All of which is true, but perhaps I should have found a more elegant answer.

Before I dropped her off she came out with the final tangent, saying that she doesn't want to have her hips change because she wants to stay skinny.

Well shit.

Suddenly I needed to deal with the topics of body image and the pressure to be thin and coping with changes to one's own body and these aren't easily covered by one line answers!  Unfortunately by this point we were already at school and she was off, lacking any particularly insightful answer to her final statement.

I have all these great speeches in my head, ready to give to her, and she just ends up packing so many questions into a tiny timeframe that I can't give all the speeches as the opportunities present themselves.  Somehow in my brain when these learning moments happen I have lots of time to pontificate at length, to take my leisurely time in teaching her the things she needs to know.

But in real life she pops off a question without a thought, gets a response that is squeezed for time and space, and sometimes just doesn't even listen to it very much.  She, after all, has much less of a sense about which of her many questions are the ones I deem important to get just right.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Love the game

Tonight I was thinking about how the first experience in a video game can be like falling in love.  I remember with startling clarity many of the early experiences in relationships when I felt myself falling into that state of crazy delirium, the sense that madness was taking hold and that I would be a slave to a new rush of chemicals.  It is a wondrous feeling and manages to cement memories that to an outsider might not look like anything interesting at all.  You can't get that sensation back, no matter how hard you try.  You can find love again with somebody new, but that first taste of attractive insanity is ephemeral and temporary.

Games are similar.  I remember playing Skyrim for the first time and my absolute wonder and joy at my first venture up a mountain into the ancient tomb called Bleak Falls Barrow.  It was guarded by bandits who began to rain arrows down on me as I approached.  I saw them up on their high perches and could not figure out how I might survive their assault to get close enough to mash them with my gigantic hammer.  I ran away, badly wounded, and hid behind a pillar to try to heal myself and desperately formulate a plan.

That first foray into an unknown place, not understanding the dangers and pitfalls I might encounter, dreaming of treasures and wonders, was very much like falling in love.  It came from something new, something unexplored, something unknown and terrifying.  That combination of optimism and fear, uncertainty and bravado, was absolutely intoxicating.  I played Skyrim for so many hours and had many fabulous moments of discovery and triumph but I never recaptured that feeling from Bleak Falls Barrow, that first few moments where the scope and power of the Skyrim world revealed themselves to me.  While I loved the game, that feeling would never return no matter how much I searched for it.

There are things that are definitely shared between discovering a new person (or just a new side of a person you thought you knew) and discovering a video game for the first time.  There is something immensely powerful about the unknown, both in that there may be scary things, bad times, and suffering, but also the possibility of rapture and joy.  Once a person is understood, once a game is explored, that sense of secrets to be found and the unknown fades away.  Both the love of a human and the first experience of a game world cannot be sustained over the long term as the unknown fades to known, as the map is filled in.

All of which explains a lot of why people have similar sorts of styles when it comes to games as they do when it comes to relationships.  Some people want to get past that first stage and just settle into playing a game over and over forever, content with second stage love.  Some people flit from game to game, always hunting for that hit of first love, of newness, of desperation and terror and hope.  I don't think that these things are particularly related though, as I definitely know people who sit tight in relationships, very happy to be settled, but are polygamers, never sticking to just one thing at a time.  There are also plenty of the opposite who chase the thrill in new relationships but play one game always and forever.

I can't tell which I am, to be honest.  I used to be more monogamous both in games and in love, but these days I find myself wandering from place to place, looking for new thrills instead of focusing in on one single thing.  I do wish I knew why this is the way it is though.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The good company

For her birthday Elli got an advent calendar.  It was 25 days of LEGO bits, all themed around outdoor winter activities.  The set came with 2 figurines and a variety of cold weather sports gear including hockey sticks and skates.  Elli was not in the least interested in actually doing the advent calendar thing and just ripped everything open immediately.  Unfortunately it brought as much sadness as happiness because she discovered that two of the baggies were the same and the baggie containing the hockey sticks was nowhere to be found.

I was fairly sure that she would forget about the hockey sticks completely in a day or so but it seemed like a good idea to teach the lesson that if a company does something wrong you can try to get it fixed rather than just sucking it up.  That in mind, I wrote LEGO and described the problem to them.  Two weeks later I got a reply apologizing for the error and giving me exact part descriptions of the pieces that were going to be shipped to me.

Yesterday the parts arrived containing all the bits that were supposed to be in the original baggie.  It even included an apologetic note explaining that they try really hard not to let this stuff happen and such.  The pieces were shipped all the way from Europe, so they actually went to an awful lot of effort to track down the set I described, the pieces I described, and then ship it halfway around the world.

I feel kind of weird and ambivalent about this.  Partly it is great because Elli was absolutely stoked about getting her bits finally and ran off to play with them.  I appreciate when companies fix problems effectively and promptly, and such behaviour really makes me want to buy their products again.

One the other hand, shipping plastic bits in a plastic baggie in a plastic contained halfway around the world seems *heinously* wasteful.  My brother is currently doing a 'no plastic' month to try to get a grip on the way plastic is used and how you can go about reducing its use, and that makes this LEGO shipment seem all the more absurd.

I guess if I am okay with Elli collecting LEGO for birthday presents I probably shouldn't worry about the extra little bits.  It the large view it is more of a general consumption issue rather than a problem with this particular grouping of ten little bits in a bag that is the issue.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Take off that hat

Elli's school has an issue with hats.  That is, children sometimes like to wear hats and this is apparently an intolerable burden to the administration, an unforgivable offence.  I just don't get that reaction.  There is certainly a prevalent attitude in our culture that taking off your hat is in some ways a respectful act, and it has often butted heads with cultural norms that require turbans, kippahs, or other head coverings.

When I see children coming inside from recess and being immediately scolded to remove their hats and carry them instead of wearing them I want to go up to the teacher or administrator in question and ask why, exactly, it matters if they are wearing a hat or not.  How can this be a priority?  You only have so much energy and time, so wasting it trying to correct hat usage means that you have less available to try to achieve other things.  You know, things that might matter.  That child having a baseball cap on while they climb the stairs strikes me as something that does not in fact matter, and so it shouldn't be a priority.

In general it bothers me just because clothing requirements set by the government bother me.  Aside from clothes which directly affect other people (say a shirt emblazoned with racial slurs) I can't find any argument for government employees enforcing dress codes like this.

I also think the message we should be sending to children is that what they wear is their own business, not other people's.  This is especially true for girls as they get far more severely policed in that way throughout their lives, but it is true for everyone.  There is no safety reason to enforce hat removal.  There is no risk of causing harm to others.  The only defence is that it is the way things have always been done, and I don't think that is a compelling case at all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Christie Brinkley, a model, recently posted a photo of herself in a bikini on vacation in which she looked really good.  Thoroughly unremarkable, except for the fact that Brinkley is 61, and still is rocking a body most 20 year olds are likely to be envious of.

So there you go. 61 year old woman with fantastic genetics, lot of money, the best personal training, and maybe other advantages has a pretty hot bod.  So what?

Well, the internet is angry about it.  Lots of people telling her things like "No woman over 35 should wear a bikini" or "I hate that bitch" or "Women her age should NOT be taking sexy photos of themselves" or insisting that the fact that her ribcage is visible is gross.  Some even tossed in assertions that she had obviously achieved this with the use of cosmetic surgery.  Which, maybe she has, I certainly don't know.  But so what if she has?  Doing so certainly doesn't make all this hatred and misogyny acceptable.

It all makes me sad.  Buried in all of this is an assumption that her worth is tied up in her looks and that women who aren't young are meant to fade away, to accept their lack of relevance, to give up the stage to younger folks.  Moreover that it is somehow offensive for an older woman to continue to be happy with her body, or to show it off if she wants to.  Ageism like that applies to everyone, but far, far more so to women.

So let us say that I am glad that Brinkley is sending the message that you can be hot at any age, but we should further add to that.  You don't have to look like her to be attractive.  You don't have to be young or hot to be worthwhile.  A little more focus on accepting her for what she is, and accepting us for what we are, without attempting to compare either to arbitrary and useless standards, would really do everyone a lot of good.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Cleaning up

I have had a profile on the dating site OKCupid for a few years now and they have finally recognized my greatness!  By which I mean they have asked me to do a bunch of work for no pay and no recognition.  Which isn't really the same thing, now that I think about it.

What specifically happened is OKC sent me a message telling me that they think I am a good contributor to the community and they want me to help moderate the site by flagging photos and profiles that are against the rules.  While I generally am not big on the whole 'do work for a company for free' thing, I really could not stop myself at least checking it out to see what exactly they would have me doing.  I thought it would be fascinating to see exactly what sorts of problems they have to deal with.

I was not disappointed.

The main thing that moderators have to deal with is endless spam from sex workers and scammers.  There are endless profiles using pictures of attractive young women that have been grabbed from the internet and slapped onto OKC.  I assume some of them are escorts / prostitutes, some are cam sites, some are other dating sites, and the balance are just a bunch of con artists looking to get me to pay money because Real Russian Women Want To Date You.  Most of these sorts of profiles get flagged and the moderators all agree that the pictures are easily found in Google Image Search so they are clearly fake.

The second most common thing is profiles flagged as overtly sexual.  Some of these are just people posing with very little on, or even nude but positioned such that their genitals / nipples are covered.  Certainly some users object to this but it isn't against the rules.  However, I have had a small collection of dick pics pop up on my screen and those definitely are against the rules so they get squelched without any thought required.

So since we have covered greed and lust, what is the great third sin that occupies the time of OKC's volunteer moderators?  Think on it for a minute...

Incompetence, of course!

I got a lot of profiles that contained perfectly normal pictures of men with perfectly small, boring descriptions but which were listed as female and looking for single men.  Initially I was puzzled as to why this might exist, but then I discovered that OKC defaults to female and straight.  This is just a case of these men being useless and lacking attention to detail.  They spent enough time to upload boring photos of them standing in their living rooms but not enough to check that their basic stats were correct.  Now as you would expect these men didn't take the time to make decent profiles otherwise either, they are just a couple of vague 'looking for someone fun, no drama' statements combined with bland, useless platitudes.

The last thing I got sent to deal with was profile pictures that didn't actually contain a picture of the person.  Some of them were actually really nice photos of mountains or sunsets or cars or whatever that weren't in the least objectionable, but the rule is that a profile photo is actually supposed to contain the user so these photos get flagged for removal.  One was a roughly eight year old girl with her picture having a French flag filter on it... which is so not right as a profile picture and out it went.  Doesn't matter if that eight year old is the user many years ago, pictures of kids as profile pictures is not at all allowed and that is a policy I can get behind.  This section isn't really a great sin so much as people not quite grasping that others actually want to see what they look like and a beautiful autumn nature scene isn't quite doing that.

Not sure I am going to keep doing this any more but it was certainly interesting to have a quick look to find out what sorts of things exist in the quagmire of online dating moderation.  I do like the idea of cleaning up the internet though...

Thursday, November 26, 2015


I have been thinking a lot about electoral systems lately since the new Liberal government has stated their intention to change Canada's First Past the Post system to something less bad.  I approve of the change but there are a lot of options in terms of what we could end up with, and some are better than others.  I suspect for the Liberals the best strategy in terms of selfish desire to rule is a simple ranked ballot.  Under that system an awful lot of voters will rank NPD - Liberals - Conservatives or Conservatives - Liberals - NDP and that will work wonders at keeping the Liberals in power.  (Which isn't my goal, but it seems the likely result, and not one the Liberals will ignore.)

However, today I ran across an interesting set of ideas called Liquid Democracy that proposes a fairly radical change to how voting and governing function.  The idea is captured in this chart reasonably well:

The basic idea is that people nominate proxies for themselves to vote on individual issues or vote directly.  Part of it is the assumption that proxies can also have proxies, and that each proxy can be contingent on the type of vote going on.  For example, I could vote directly on issues relating to justice, nominate one person to vote on native issues for me, and nominate another proxy to vote on everything else through their network of proxies, which hopefully is a carefully selected group of experts.  It has a lot of basic appeal, but also a ton of issues.

I actually take issue with the basic idea that it is a good thing to have the entire country voting on each individual issue.  People are shortsighted and don't have a grasp of the big picture, and if their votes are based on individual issues they aren't going to have any kind of overall strategy.  It seems very likely that everyone would happily vote for lower taxes, better healthcare, and more money spent on their project of choice, and then be angry when the budget was a total disaster.  People already vote themselves free stuff when they can and letting them do it on a case by case basis seems terrible.

The way I see it we actually need people who are in the business of governing and who are going to be at it for awhile to make cohesive plans.  I also question our ability to actually group up legislation into discrete chunks in that way - how do I separate the fiscal group from nearly any other group?  How do we decide if legislation regulating land use in a way that impacts native reserves is voted on as an environmental or native vote?

However, this was a useful exercise because it got me thinking about how we group our voting power and considering alternatives.  Right now things are greatly focused on physical location, operating on the assumption that people who live in an area have similar views that should be represented.  While I have things in common with someone who lives 2 blocks away, I have a heck of a lot more in common with atheist socialists living in Vancouver than I do religious conservatives living in my building.

So how might we go about letting people find representatives that match their interests better without completely removing the idea of local representation?

The idea I am putting forward here is that voting be shifted from pieces of paper based strictly on location to online voting that is location independent.  Imagine a system where people go to vote and have a list of possible representatives which includes everyone in the country who has gone through the procedure to be listed.  Each candidate would still be able to list themselves by riding, so that people who want to vote for someone local can see the list of ~5 people who are local candidates, or they can search (with electronic assistance, obviously) for the candidate they want that isn't local.

Example:  I go to vote.  I can vote for Carolyn Bennett, my local Liberal rep, as she appears alongside Ginny McGee and Dorfus The Greedy as my local candidates.  Or I can type in "May" and find Elizabeth May's name in the list and vote for her because I like the Green Party.  Or if my best friend Bob is running for office I can look him up and vote for him.

The top 300 candidates each get a job in Ottawa forming Parliament.  Everyone else who gets any votes can vote on each piece of legislation, and they get as many votes as they got in the election, but they don't get a job and full time salary.  Could potentially have a cut off (say 100 votes) over which everyone gets a small stipend to cover the costs they presumably incur in trying to represent their constituents.  This way if a geographic area wants their needs recognized they can vote for a local person to do that, but if I am more concerned about legalizing pot, or marriage equality, or keeping out refugees, I can vote for the person who is dedicated to doing just that.

Under this system gerrymandering ridings is still possible but almost entirely pointless.  People nearby to my riding can still vote for Carolyn Bennett if they want, but her name is in that short list for people actually in her riding to make it easy for those who haven't done their research.

It is even possible to change your representative partway through the term under this system, but doing so would require that your vote be registered to you and that is an issue all on its own.  While it would give more accountability it would also make voting anonymously impossible and that isn't great.  In any case this eliminates strategic voting, lets people who have very specific issues and preferences find exactly the right candidate, and lets people vote by the group or issue set they identify with rather than restricting it to locale.

I like it, but if anyone sees any really big holes in the theory I would appreciate hearing about them.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Scott Adams, who writes the Dilbert comic strip, is an misogynist asshole.  I really like Dilbert most of the time and Adams has often written blog posts that were entertaining to me, so I have reasons to like the guy, but you just can't get past the awful sometimes.

(Also his blog posts were entertaining in the sense of me being in awe that someone could actually forward such a ludicrous proposition - like say that Donald Trump is some kind of wizard.)

The latest awful is a post that asserts that Western nations are female dominated and makes all kinds of absurd claims about how straight sex and relationships work.  The crowning glory is his assertion that sex in Western societies is strictly controlled by women.  That assertion is a bit tricky to support.  For example, if a woman came up to Adams while he was walking along the street and demanded sex on the spot, he would refuse.

Which, strangely enough, suggests that he, a male, has some say in when sex happens.

There are a few things that could make such an idiotic claim true.  For example, if we assume that men always want sex under any circumstances with any woman, then it could be true.  But we know that they don't because there are plenty of women who want sex with specific men and get denied it.  I can verify the existence of such things through a variety of sources, including personal experience.  I have been turned down more than I have turned other people down, but it happens both ways!  Adams' statement could also be true if women never wanted sex and would only have it to gain leverage or for other gain, but as a professional straight man I can assure you there are women who want sex.  Several, in fact.

Since these propositions are both absurd, let us try to think what could bring Adams to conclude that women strictly control sex.

The obvious answer is that Adams recognizes that sometimes he doesn't get to have sex with women because they aren't interested, but when the situation is reversed he doesn't even recognize their desires as real.  He lives in a world where other people wanting things isn't even a thing that must be acknowledged unless it happens to prevent him getting what he wants.  He just pretends that those other feelings don't exist.

The short and pithy version is "I only care what women think when it prevents me from getting my way, and is backed up by threat of force from the state."

Fact is, the only time when sex is strictly controlled by women is when there are only women involved.  Any sex that does involve both men and women is strictly controlled by *both*.  It is a collaborative thing that everyone must consent to, and should that consent not come from all sides it is called rape instead.

So let's shut down this ridiculous 'female dominated society' nonsense.  The people saying 'female dominated society' with a straight face seem to always be conflating it with 'I can't force women to have sex with me at will'.  That isn't a bug in a matriarchy, it is a feature of treating people with some modicum of decency.

Friday, November 20, 2015


I have been watching coverage of the response to the attacks in Paris and found a new reason to deplore the state of politics.  In the US there is a new piece of legislation coming through that would pretty much stop any immigration from Syria as it would impose unreasonable and pointless restrictions on anyone coming from there to the US.  It has been passed by Congress with enough support from both parties that Obama is not able to veto it.

The part that really stuck with me though was the way it was described in the news.  Republicans were assumed to be totally behind the new rules, because obviously they want irrational government restrictions that serve no purpose because they cement their racist credentials.  That was something the press clearly assumed as a given.  However, reports also mentioned that Democrats supported the legislation because after all it is an election year and they have to worry about being reelected.

Because obviously politicians of both parties vote for awful things just to establish how bigoted they are to the populace.  Winning votes requires such posturing.

Is it worse that everyone assumes that the US population demands such things, or that everyone knows that when an election is coming nobody even pays attention to what the things they are voting for actually do?  That such failures of governance aren't even worth remarking upon is depressing.

Canada, thankfully, is on a different track.  We are going to take in a bunch of those refugees, and we will reap the eventual rewards.  One small reason to celebrate.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Time to die

The Canadian government is trying to figure out how to implement doctor assisted suicide.  They are going so far as to put ads on websites to let people know that they can go to the government site and input their opinions to make sure their thoughts are considered.  There is no 'I don't want doctor assisted suicide to happen' option, because the Supreme Court ruled that it has to be legal.  All we are doing is trying to figure out the details.  I went through the whole process of picking numbers from 1-5 for a huge number of questions to explain how important things were, how much they worried me, and what I thought might be issues we should be concerned about.

The main takeaway from the questionnaire for me is that we don't need to fill it out.  The people who created it took time to clearly outline positions on both sides for most issues, had lots of notes to explain background when necessary, and clearly had an understanding of the difficulties far exceeding my own.  Just the fact that they asked about things like "Do you think that people with disabilities will be more likely to have their doctors recommend assisted suicide should they qualify for it?" tells you that they have really looked at all the angles.  The people running this are aware of the fact that people with disabilities might be treated as though their lives aren't as worth living, and that we need to be very aware of such things when constructing the rules.  Another good example is the questions about whether or not a doctor who will not perform assisted suicide should have to provide a referral to a doctor who will.

The public obviously wants to be consulted on this but I question how much their answers are going to be useful.  The gesture of letting people have input is reasonable but honestly I would much rather that the people who have clearly already figured it out just do the thing that seems right rather than worry about which answers got 1s and which got 5s.  Asking for simple answers to hard questions in that way just isn't going to tell you much, so even if the average person's opinions on the specifics were useful (which I question greatly) actually getting those opinions out of them in an actionable way doesn't strike me as likely.

Clearly we are going to have doctor assisted suicide, which is long past due.  Dying by choice is a right people should have, though certainly there have to be many precautions in place.  The people doing it are seeking public opinion, clearly know what they are about, and are definitely on the right track.

Big time thumbs up from me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Let them in

Here we are again.  Another firestorm of debate surrounding taking in refugees ignited by a terrorist action in a first world nation.  Considering the progression of the discussion is a maudlin sort of affair.

Religious extremists bomb Paris.  Awful.  Western social media explodes with coverage and people expressing solidarity with the French.  Which is good... but it shows how racist that caring is when we realize that recent terrorist attacks in countries that aren't white got no such response.

That doesn't mean that everyone who publicly supports France is being racist, but it shows us that in aggregate Western society pays attention to people based on race.  We share and care about terrorism in France in ways that we don't when the location is Beirut instead.  We should all take this as a lesson that we need to stop Othering people in countries that are culturally or racially different than our own.  We need to stop ignoring their suffering, and only paying attention when one of our own tribe is in trouble.

Far worse though are the people using this as a platform to complain about immigration and refugees.  That isn't systemic racism revealed by examining actions in aggregate, no, it is just straight out racism.  The refugees are fleeing IS.  They are running away from the exact same group that masterminded the murders in Paris.  They are looking for a new home, a place of safety away from the chaos in Syria.

I said it before and I will say it again.  We have a moral obligation to help refugees.  But we don't need to help them solely because of moral obligation as taking in refugees results in economic benefits for the country in question over time.  We are making the world a better place by helping desperate people in dire need, and in the end we will help ourselves too.

Anyone desperate to use this event as a platform to rail against refugees coming to their nation is just trying to cover their bigotry in the cloak of safety or frugality, both of which are ridiculous, trivially falsifiable arguments.  Maybe that bigotry is cultural imperialism, maybe it is racism, maybe it is religious discimination, or perhaps some combination of the three.  But in no way should we condone this nonsense and it should be called out for what it is.

The way to push back against IS isn't to toss more bombs at cities or to build walls against desperate civilians.  It is to welcome with open arms the people displaced by their violence, to help those still in harm's way with food and medicine, and to set an example of living well and lovingly.  There are many ways to stir up a potential bomber to fanatical levels, but "Go kill those people who help those in need of a home and who cure the sick and feed the hungry" doesn't generally do it, but "Go kill those people who bombed your hometown" sure does.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What a night

Elli had her birthday party last night and she finally got her wish granted - a sleepover with 3 extra friends.  I was pretty sure that 4 twitchy, overly stimulated small kids would stay up really late and be quite irritating but I wasn't quite prepared for just how late and just how irritating.

They had all gotten up around 6:30 to have a full day of horseback riding and they got back from that around 7:00 in the evening.  I figured that this might even bode well for an early night - surely children exhausted from a long day with the horses would sleep at some reasonable hour?

But no.  I tried to get them to settle down and sleep for about 3 hours from 10 till 1, and finally just gave up and went to bed myself.  I was awoken by shrieking directly outside my bedroom door at 2, then at 2:30, then 3, then 3:30.  You see, each time one of the small girls needed to pee, one of the others would sneak up to the bathroom and turn off the lights from the outside switch.  Then of course the one in the bathroom would start screaming bloody murder because they were alone in the dark... and I would come awake in a adrenalin filled haze.

At first I handled it pretty well I think.  I got them all places to sleep, negotiated my way through all of their random requests, and acted very much like a reasonable adult. (Afraid of the closet!  Afraid of the barbie dolls in a cupboard!  Thirsty!  Pillow not comfortable enough!  She is taking too much room!)

The second wakeup was not handled as well.  I was very grumbly and irritable and lacked much in the way of patience.  Their excuses, blaming each other, and lying about what they were doing had a lot less 'aww, this will make a good story' value, and a lot more 'I hate the universe.  Especially the part of the universe that has children'.

The third wakeup was almost comedic.  I snapped at them to get themselves off to bed, but was told 'But Daddy, I need to get the green makeup off of my face!'

It is three in the fucking morning.  Why do you have green makeup all over your face?  Why are you awake?  GO TO SLEEP!

There was some yelling, and threats of severe punishments if I was awoken again.  I am not proud of the yelling, but I cut myself some slack because the circumstances did not exactly allow me to be at my best.

The fourth wakeup was going to be bad.  Thankfully Wendy had gotten to sleep through the first five hours of bedtime ordeal and she took over and let me roll back over so I didn't have to go out there and follow through on my earlier threats.  I would have, had I been the one to go back out there, so it was good I didn't have to.  I was really feeling that seething anger and it took me an awfully long time to get back down.

Finally the children were separated into three separate rooms and they fell asleep, only waking me up three more times before morning.

Somehow the kids seemed to think that everything went fine last night.  They forgot all about how at any given time one of them was sobbing in a corner or injured or freaking out.  They don't seem to be fazed by the yelling, the grumpiness, the constant fighting with each other, and their own exhaustion.

Next year the party is not going to include an overnight component.  That sort of nonsense is for people who have enormous houses or camper vans for the kids to sleep in.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fear the ponies

I found a lovely article today talking about the ridiculous fears we have about drugs.  The author talked about equasy, a habit that results in acute harm in 1 in 350 cases and which causes the release of endorphins and adrenalin into the system of humans who use it.  It had thousands of Britons in its grip, including many small children.

Of course equasy is horseriding, and despite the fact that it is vastly more dangerous than nearly any illegal drug no one bats an eye at people exposing children to it.

It is a similar comparison to one I often make where I talk about how people don't think anything at all of children being put in a car and driven long distances to a cottage but they freak out about children walking home alone or using an elevator by themselves.  The fact that the ride to the cottage is vastly more dangerous simply doesn't factor into it as their worry has nothing to do with actual measureable danger.

I am imagining a cop show where the plucky cop duo crash through the door of a ski resort, slam the manager down on the floor, and pack them away into a squad car before delivering some pithy one liner involving saving children from broken legs and frostbite.  (I tried to figure out something about frostbite and broken legs in jail, because that is how those one liners go, but I came up empty.  I guess I shouldn't try to write for TV.)

Canada is going to legalize pot, which is a great first step, but it is only the first step.  Pot has the most medicinal value and the least downsides of the illegal drugs so it is definitely the first candidate for legalization but we should not stop there.  We need to legalize all of it, regulate it, tax it, and focus on helping addicts instead of locking them up.  Failing to do so is the height of hypocrisy in light of how we look at other sources of danger.

Monday, November 9, 2015


I think we, as a society, have tied up fun and money too tightly in our formula for a good life.  There is a persistent idea out there that in order to have a good life you need to follow your dreams, make your hobbies your job, and somehow magically you will get to have fun all of the time while being paid buckets of money for it.  That fantasy is pretty harmful in a lot of ways because it encourages people to think of themselves as failures when they have to do a normal job and leaves a lot of people chasing dreams into poverty and desperation.

I found a quote I quite like here:

The most likely route to career contentment is to find work that is neither too hard or too easy, that's ethical, with a good boss, with a decent commute, and that pays decently.  Then work diligently at it so you're good at it.

That, to me, is a formula for career success.  It doesn't play as well at parties, perhaps, as the I Followed My Dreams story, but it will likely get you a lot more happiness.  Happiness is tied to being financially secure (though not particularly to being rich), to having a short commute, and to being around people you like and trust.  The correlation to following your dreams just isn't there.

I don't mean that you should actively avoid doing work that you might do just for fun, but that you can achieve just as much happiness by working a job you are good at with people you like and pursuing your passions on the side.  You don't have to make a living playing gigs to play music and have it be fulfilling.  You don't have to work as a chef to get great enjoyment out of cooking.  Go to your day job, come home, and do the thing you love when you want, in the way you want.  You even have the advantage that you don't get burned out on your passion because you don't have to mix in meetings and deadlines and annoying end users and the desperate need to sell yourself so you can eat next week.

This is the kind of advice kids need when talking about work.  I don't know anybody who would list fixing electrical boxes, selling beds, or helping customers navigate software issues as their passions, and yet I know people who have jobs doing these things that give them great satisfaction.  They found something useful that they were good at and practiced until they were experts.  A few people are going to make a living being painters, NFL quarterbacks, or celebrity chefs but mostly people find their happiness in much more mundane professions and indeed nearly everyone *has* to find their happiness there.  Somebody has to serve the coffee, enter the data, and ring up the total and there is nothing shameful in doing those things just because it isn't the culmination of a lifelong dream.

Stoicism has something to say about this sort of thing.  When you decide that you will work to the limits of your ability to write a song, the achievement of that goal is up to you.  When you decide that you will make tons of money writing songs, the achievement of that goal is up to everyone else.  Pegging your happiness and achievement on the whims of the rest of the world seems ridiculous to me - you need not base your sense of success and failure on things you can't control.

This is why I find it so difficult to talk to people about my games sometimes.  They nearly always want me to make it more, bigger, and to spend my days doing all the administrative, sales, and bureaucratic work that would be required to turn them into a source of revenue.  I don't want that.  I hate all that kind of work, especially when it isn't paying me a decent wage (and independent game design does not pay a decent wage, trust me.)  Sitting at my computer creating my games, building my constructs in the ether, makes me deeply happy.  Trying to convince others to buy them does not.  So I will do what makes me happy.

I suppose I am following my dreams in a way.  My dream is to putter away on my games, and I am going to do that.  It is just that this is where the dream ends - it needs no revenue to be realized in full.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The leak in the dam

Finland is preparing to embark on a universal income experiment.  The amount of money they are giving everyone isn't huge, (about 11k US$ per year) but it is a massive step forward.  The key to implementing it here in Canada is to get people past the initial shock and disbelief at the concept, and seeing it in action in another country and watching that country not immediately degenerate into economic collapse is going to be big.

I find discussions on universal income really regularly come down to disbelief that it could happen.  Everyone I talk to agrees that ditching the patchwork system we have with all of its holes, qualification requirements, and additional bureaucracy is a good thing.  Making sure that everyone can feed, cloth, and house themselves in a fairly basic way is a great goal, and we clearly have the resources to do it.  The objection doesn't seem to be a logistical one, but just a feeling that nobody is going to go for it.

People seem to be stuck on the idea that the people of Canada are totally unwilling to give out money like that.  I am sure that some are like that, but if truly the only reason we aren't pushing it is because people are going to be too shocked by it, then the solution is to be loud and boisterous about it to eventually get the idea of universal income normalized.  Being able to finally say that another country is doing it is the first drip of water leaking through the dam of 'but it can't be done' and once that water is dripping I don't think anything will stop it.

It wasn't long ago that the idea of legalizing pot here in Canada was outrageous - the drugs, think of the children! and yet we elected a majority government promising to do exactly that.  People came around on the idea, and although there are still a few uniformed folks out there who think that Reefer Madness will consume the youth and leave the streets strewn with people dead of pot overdoses the majority have finally realized there is nothing to fear.  I suspect we have legalization in parts of the US to thank for that last push, and maybe Canada fully legalizing pot will push the rest of the US to follow suit too.

Or maybe I overestimate how much they pay attention to us...?

In any case the only other objection I have found is that the rich will run away to somewhere where the taxes are lower.  I have no doubt that a few will, but quite frankly good riddance.  There is every reason to think that the economy of Canada will be much improved should we implement universal income and the attendant higher taxes on the wealthy, and that lifts everyone up.  There will be a few less yachts for those in the highest income brackets, but most of them will just live with that and move on.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Merit and going hog wild

The new Liberal cabinet has been announced, and as promised it is 50% women.  There are a lot of people, nearly all men, who have decided that this is awful and people should be put in cabinet based on merit, not gender.

Funny how this wasn't an issue with other governments who put people in cabinet positions without any relevant experience based on nepotism, dealing favours, or to placate ambitions.  That's all business as usual!  But having women in cabinet, in numbers that reflect their relative share of society, this is an outrage!

What bullshit.

The Liberals have done well in their appointments as far as I can see.  I like that Cabinet has proportional representation for women, has an Inuit person, and has other minorities too.  There are of course white men (not much danger of missing out on them) but they are less overrepresented than usual.  Crazy.

Anyway, now that the Liberals are in power, my plan is to roll a joint, wander down the local bordello, commit a terrorist act or two, and then wreck the economy.  Because Justin Trudeau is just not ready.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Yesterday I went to clean the shower and discovered that I only had one glove, and it was a left handed glove... not ideal for a righty like me.  This has been true for years now, and every time I have gone to clean something with bleach or other harsh chemicals I found the one left glove, cursed it, and did the job one handed, wronghanded.

And yet each time I did those jobs I never really considered going and getting a new set of gloves.  I have some really weird quirks in my brain that cause this behaviour, both in terms of my money demon and my lack of feeling like I am actually responsible for my environment.  I am the sort of person who wears clothes until they fall to bits - normally my shoes have big open holes for a year before I consider replacing them.  That sort of attitude holds true in the cleaning glove department as well.  I look at the one glove and determine that I can't buy a new set because that would be wasting the perfectly good glove I have.  So I soldier on, trying to use that one glove until it breaks and I can justify buying another.

Problem is, I don't use harsh chemicals often so that glove sat there, perfectly functional (for a lefty) for years.  Best bet is it lasts another couple decades at this rate, with me pulling it out and cursing its durability every six months or so.

There is rational thriftiness, which I certainly have.  Then there is ridiculous penny pinching, which unfortunately I also have.  New gloves cost two bucks and as an adult with both two bucks to spare and a need for gloves there is no reason why I shouldn't just buy the bloody things.

But part of this isn't even about the money, it is just realizing that I am the adult in this situation and I have to solve it.  I can't just sit here waiting for somebody else to realize that this is a problem and fix it - Wendy doesn't do any cleaning, and probably can't even reach the cleaning supplies where I have them stored.  There is absolutely no way this changes unless I become and adult and take responsibility for changing it.

It is a little odd that the thing that really made me feel like a grownup today was going out and buying a set of cleaning gloves.  Maybe someday I will actually be responsible like I imagine adults to be, but I apparently have a long way to go.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Obey, or else

There has been quite the kerfuffle this week surrounding a police officer in South Carolina who attacked a female black student, tossed her halfway across her classroom onto a concrete floor, and was subsequently fired for his actions.  Multiple students filmed the incident on their phones and I am glad they did - it seems likely to me that nothing of consequence would have happened to the cop had the damning videos not been immediately circulated far and wide.

Most of my network is appalled at the video footage and cannot fathom how this could be justified.  If the teen in question had a gun, a knife, or otherwise been very dangerous I could see the officer's level of violence being warranted, but the officer could not have thought he was in any danger.  The man had combat training, could reportedly benchpress 600 pounds (?!?), and was standing over a teenage girl who couldn't have threatened him even if he literally had one arm tied behind his back.  So why did he attack her?

It is an old and familiar answer - she was resisting authority.  That is, she had pulled out her phone for a minute and been told to leave class, which she refused to do.  Refusing to obey direct orders while being black is something this particular white officer could not condone, so in a fit of rage he attacked.   Unsurprisingly he was accused of having a history of prejudice towards black students and a track record of over the top violence - not an ideal candidate to work at a high school, one would think.

But there are those who defend him.  The line of defence they use boils down to a simple idea - she did not obey.  (There is some hand waving about her fighting back, but when someone with literally five times your strength is lifting you into the air your hands ineffectually hitting at them is not assault.)  This lack of obedience, of blind deference to authority, warrants severe and immediate punishment by this line of thinking.  When a cop tells you to do something, you do it, no matter how wrong it may be, and if you do not then expect to be attacked for your temerity.

It speaks to a worldview that I can't get behind.  Essentially it boils down to the idea that doing as you are told by the powers that be is a inherently moral act, and not doing what you are told is immoral.  The natural extension of this is that if you disobey you are bad, and thus deserving of any suffering that comes your way.

This makes me think of the five pillars of moral behaviour model - Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Respect, Sanctity.  Conservatives tend to believe in all five pillars, whereas liberals tend to only believe in Care and Fairness.  It is one of the explanations of why right and left have such a hard time talking to one another... it is difficult to discuss what we ought to do when we can't even agree on what sorts of things we might use to decide if a given thing is moral in the first place.

Attacking the student was not caring.  It was not fair.  It was an angry, emotional response to a lack of respect for his position of authority over her.  That isn't justified, it isn't moral, and we ought to make it clear that blind obedience isn't a moral necessity.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Its alive!

I finally have a real live copy of Camp Nightmare (the board game I have been developing for a year) in my grasp.  All the art is done and I went and got it printed out.  It feels great to have cards with good colour, proper art, and even a really nice snap to them in my hands.  My old prototypes were just slips of paper with terrible art, terrible colour, and I had to use old Magic sleeves to keep them stiff.

Now I am busy cutting things out with scissors and stacking everything up.  I admit, I had lots of doubts surrounding the expenditure of time and money to make the game real as the months passed, but now that I can actually feel it I am so happy it exists.

The Kickstarter to make the game a thing for real is going to be a big project, and it is still intimidating to some extent.  I will have to promise a lot of stuff to a lot of people and hope that nothing goes critically wrong that leaves me unable to deliver.  But just look at that manual and that board!  They look like something real people made, instead of hacked together junk like I have always used for these things.

It is time to go camping.  Roast some marshmallows, run from some bears, sit miserable in the pouring rain, and most of all cope with fellow campers and their wild ideas about what exactly the group should do on their trip through the wilderness.

If you want to keep tabs on my Kickstarter progress the page for it on Facebook is here.  If you Like it you will see the posts I make and know when things get going, which will be soon.  I had thought things would go faster, but now I really see from personal experience why everybody says that the process of getting a Kickstarter and a game going is a slow thing.  Even when the total time investment isn't huge everything has to be done in order and life gets in the way.  Soon though, so very soon.

One more picture, this time of the stack of Gear cards you can use during your ill fated trip.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The hottie

I thought a lot of things about Justin Trudeau were interesting and might get talked about after the election.  His family dynasty, his campaign style, maybe even his party platform and promises were all on my mind.

The fact that Trudeau is, apparently, a stone cold hottie wasn't really the thing I was thinking about.

It turns out that the rest of the world is mostly interested in how attractive our new Prime Minister is and across the globe people were commenting about how much they wanted to rub bits of themselves on JT and sharing an image of him shirtless in a boxing pose.

Following this there was some backlash against the overwhelming objectification of Canada's new leader, and then backlash against the backlash.  Feminists were arguing that we shouldn't objectify him because we wouldn't want a female leader having her looks be the only thing people noticed, and then feminists on the other side argued that it isn't the same thing at all because men aren't treated the same way with regards to their looks and the objectification in this case can be treated as more of a single thing and not part of a societal norm.

I kind of wander down the middle on this one.  We should probably be more focused what JT's election means politically (get the census back online for 2016, stat!) rather than whether or not he is a cutie.  On the other hand this doesn't strike me as a big deal either, as I doubt it is bothering JT nor is it a part of systemic issues.

Really I just sit here baffled that the thing people are all afluster about is the ethics of talking about the relative attractiveness of the new Prime Minister instead of all the other really important stuff.  It isn't a bad conversation to have, but wow I sure didn't see it coming.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Canada has elected another Trudeau to the Prime Minister's office.  The Liberals have a majority government and possess the power to undo much of the mess that has come from the Conservatives over the past decade.

They promised to legalize marijuana and stop the ruinous war on drugs.

They promised to get rid of our awful first past the post electoral system.

They promised to repeal much of the worst parts of C-51, Canada's "Be Afraid and don't expect to have any rights" Bill.

They promised to hold an inquiry into the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women.

They promised to bring back the long form census, and restore fact based decision making.

All of this seems easily doable.  It really just requires the desire on the part of the Liberals to do it.  Whether we actually get rid of all of the bits of C-51 that I hate, and whether we get any decent results out of the inquiry surrounding indigenous women, is much more up in the air.  All of these things are things we should absolutely expect to happen and we should make a hell of a scene if they don't.

There are other things though that aren't so clear.  The Liberals, much like every other political party ever, have promised economic growth and prosperity.  Their ability to actually deliver on that is questionable at best.  It might happen, it might not, but I don't think they have nearly as much control over it as they think they do.  Politicians don't want to admit how little power they end up having over the fortunes of the average person or how little they understand what effects their policies actually have.  Who knows?

Also like every opposition party ever the Liberals decried the government's corruption and lack of transparency, and made it clear that they would not be the same.  Again, we should pretty much ignore this as everyone says it, nobody opposes it, and time and time again we see that it won't stay true over the long haul.  Things get corrupt no matter who is in charge.

This is a sad day in some respects because the NDP made such a bad showing.  I didn't want a Liberal government, but if a Liberal government is the alternative to the Conservatives I will take what I can get.

Pass the bong.  It is time to take a big, deep hit.  For Justin Trudeau and his icky, icky dynasty.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lazy and twitchy

My brother was visiting today.  He and my sister in law were running partial marathons in Toronto, which seemed really bizarre since their home town does have plenty of roads and fields and other such things that could be used as a venue for running.  I get that events that have a lot of people at them have appeal, and that it is easier to make yourself train when you are in a scheduled, unchangeable event... and yet travelling to a place so you can run around and be in pain just isn't my sort of vacation!

The really great thing about the visit was that I learned that there is medical news that is great for me.  We have all heard that sitting a lot is the new smoking and that it is a huge health issue.  I worried about that, and had recently begun doing twelve flights of stairs a couple times a day as a token gesture towards exercising.  I am a three pack a day sitter, for sure.  However, apparently people who fidget while sitting don't have the same health issues that most people do.  Being super twitchy and playing with pens grants immunity to sloth related health problems, in some weird way?

I could probably look that up and find out for sure, but why discount good news?  I am a grand fidgeter, taking the cap off and putting the cap back on my old USB keys a hundred times a day every day.  Pens get grabbed and chewed and flipped, and my knee is forever bouncing in place, vibrating everyone who sits on anything adjacent to me.

So it would seem I am immune to the health problems of sitting around a lot.  Now I just have to focus on plugging my ears while everyone tells me about all of the other benefits of getting up from my computer and actually doing something in the world.  Na na, not listening!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


There is much ado about the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) agreement here in Canada, especially considering an election is happening next week.  I have seen a lot of criticism of the agreement but because we don't have full information about it yet the argument is very much based on guesswork.  Certainly some things that have been bandied about in the TPP are worrisome, like the IP rights of pharmaceutical companies to block generic versions of their drugs for extended periods.

I want to be clear here though - I am not talking today about the specific parts of the TPP, because to the best of my knowledge we don't *have* those specifics nailed down.  We have leaks of draft documents, yes, but everything is subject to change.  What I am talking about today is the general attitude towards free trade I see out there in the world.  As an example, Ziggyny linked me a educational comic strip designed to talk about the problems with the TPP here.

The thing about the strip is it makes a big deal about free trade agreements being bad because jobs get shipped out of the US to other countries, China in particular.  This is a common refrain from all parts of the political spectrum - nobody, liberal or conservative, can stand up and say "I am really glad those factory jobs are in China now instead of the west!"  It is framed as evil companies vs. good people, and usually the *other* politician is to blame for such atrocities.

The problem I have with all that is that it is based on nationalism, which isn't something I can get behind.  Chinese people want jobs too and they need them more than we do here in the west.  So from a humanitarian standpoint I can't get behind all the moral outrage over having factories in China.  The thing is, free trade is good for both sides.  (That doesn't mean every free trade agreement is a good one, obviously, just that the concept of trade with less barriers and tariffs benefits everyone in general.)  Sure, free trade benefits China more than the west because it opens up the enormously profitable markets over here to their products, but reducing tariffs and barriers the other way also helps us!

The equation looks like this:  We open the borders, and people in rich country A get 1 dollar more, but people in poor country B get five dollars.  People in country A cry about the money lost, as though they could take that five dollars for themselves if they just prevented trade enough.  It doesn't work that way!  Look at history - countries that specialized in trade and made sure they made it easy for goods to move became wealthy, and so did their trading partners.  We literally produce value from nowhere when we make it easier to trade because everyone can be more efficient.  China has been producing goods for the west for a long time now, and their standard of living is rocketing upwards... and ours is going up too, though obviously not at the same rate because we started higher.  Making trade more free helps everyone, but the lion's share of that help goes to the people who need it the most and are the poorest.  How can that be a bad thing?

These arguments have much in common with the arguments about immigration.  Yes, immigrants come to western nations and take jobs there.  But then they buy things, from other westerners, and in the end everyone benefits because those immigrants create jobs when they buy things.  The immigrants benefit the most, for sure, just as developing nations benefit the most from trade with rich nations, but when trade is more free everyone gets a piece of the pie.

None of this should be taken to mean that all things western companies do in developing nations are good.  There are human rights abuses, terrible working conditions, and safety problems.  As consumers in the west we can and should take companies to task who don't treat workers in other nations well.  We can't and shouldn't try to control their salaries but we damn well should try to make sure that they are safe and not worked to death and it should go without saying that child labour falls under those goals.

We can and should try to lower or eliminate subsidies for specific industries, but of course we have to insist that our trading partners do the same.  Allowing goods to flow freely and allowing investment in developing nations to proceed (with appropriate concessions to safety, again) is a great way to make everyone wealthier, and particularly to do so for those who have the least right now.

Maybe the TPP will do that, maybe it won't.  I am pretty confident that some of its provisions will be corporate written monstrosities that we don't want, and that some of its provisions will lower barriers to trade both ways and benefit everyone in the process.  So if you have a particular gripe with the TPP I am happy to hear it, and I will likely agree with you, but please let us stop with the assumption that everyone will be better off with protectionist, economic isolationist policies that keep everyone down.

Free trade is a good thing in principle.  We shouldn't fear free trade, we should fear the crap that might get tacked on to the free trade in a big, messy, inevitably corrupt agreement like this.

Monday, October 12, 2015

For rather than against

I have been posting a lot of stuff about why people shouldn't vote for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.  As was pointed out to me last week though, I should probably put some effort into explaining why you should vote for my favourite option, the NDP / Thomas Mulcair.

Our current system of voting is awful.  First past the post encourages strategic voting instead of people voting for what they truly want and means that success is more about having a party that has no competition in their political area than having a party the populace wants.  It should *not* be a crippling disadvantage to have multiple parties representing similar viewpoints!  The NDP is going to bring in proportional representation, which is one of the best voting systems.  There are other systems that are also fine, and although personally I would go for random ballot I think proportional representation is a great improvement over what we have.

The war on drugs is wasteful, pointless, and destructive.  The NDP is planning to pursue a strategy of decriminalizing and regulation of currently illegal drugs.  I personally don't think that the government should be stepping in to stop adults from taking recreational drugs at all and I am confident that legalizing them would bring great benefits.  However, that won't happen overnight and dialing back our terrible drug strategy towards an end goal of regulating drugs similarly to how we regulate alcohol and tobacco products now is important.

Repealing Bill C-51 is key to restoring some of our key freedoms, and the NDP will do that.  C-51 was passed in a haze of nationalism and misplaced fear of terrorism and it takes away privacy and due process from Canadians to fight a mythical foe.  We wouldn't give up our freedoms to fight television sets that tip over by accident or moose wandering onto the road, and both of those are an order of magnitude more threatening than terrorism.  C-51 needs to die, and the NDP will do that.

Canada is 95% immigrants, and our country is doing well.  There is every reason to think both from this obvious statement and every bit of research that has been conducted about immigration to developed nations that bringing in refugees and immigrants makes Canada stronger.  New people to our country tend to work hard and do so at the most difficult and brutal jobs.  They didn't cross half of the world because they were lazy and looking to sit around - the types of people that make that transition are by and large people who want something better and will bust their asses to make it happen.  The NDP is going to bring in more refugees from Syria which is both good from a humanitarian and growth standpoint, and they will also make it easier for us to accept more immigrants from all corners of the world.

Thomas Mulcair and the NDP have a plan to lower spending on pointless, sometimes counterproductive things like the drug war and the military and direct that spending to things like daycare and health.  They want to stop the racist terrorism fearmongering and the policies it has spawned that take away our freedoms and work to make Canada worse off.  The Canada I want to live in is one that gives people great freedom of expression, religion, and consumption, welcomes people of all types into our borders (which helps the people that are already here!) and makes sure that our voting system brings in the leaders that the people want.  The NDP want that Canada too, so you should vote for them to give them the chance to make that happen.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fixing what ain't broke

Canada is under attack from a nefarious villain.  You know this villain, and its name is Niqab.  It is light, and scarfy, and a tremendous danger to Canadians.

Or so Stephen Harper wants us to believe.

Now he is insisting that he will push forward legislation to ban the niqab for those employed in the public service.  He won't ban crosses, or kippahs, because people who wear those vote for him.  No, he is bound and determined that niqabs be banned because by doing this he can whip up support among the openly xenophobic and racist members of society.

No one is complaining about the oppression of having to talk to someone in federal service who wears a niqab.  Hell, no one is even really sure who in the federal public service might be wearing a niqab, if anyone.  But this is a problem that must be solved, and the fact that it isn't a problem shouldn't stop us.

Let us, for a moment, step aside from these distraction tactics and look at the big picture.  Harper's government has been found in contempt of Parliament.  He has tried to eliminate fact based decision making by muzzling scientists and removing the long form census.  Our economy is in recession, our debt has skyrocketed under his leadership, and his government has been wracked with scandals revealing disgusting levels of corruption.

If you are big on the economy, Harper is a disaster.  If you are big on accountability, Harper is a disaster.  If you are big on honesty and transparency, Harper is a disaster.  Same goes for the environment and Canada's international image.

There is literally no reason to vote Conservative aside from liking their racist rhetoric.  So while I definitely recommend you vote NDP, I can say for sure that one way or the other we need to vote the bums out.  Even if it means installing Trudeau, the lesser of two evils.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Breaking it down

The Conservatives have decided that Canada needs a hotline to report "Barbaric cultural practices".  The ostensible idea here is to let people call in to report their neighbours to the government for doing things that are awful, particularly things that threaten women and children.  That explanation does have a nice ring to it, but unfortunately it is complete bullshit.  Let me break it down:

If a thing is illegal, you can call the police.  We don't need a separate hotline.

If a thing is legal but it should be illegal, we should amend our laws, not have a pointless hotline.

If a thing is legal and should be, we don't need a hotline.

There is no circumstance where a hotline of this nature is useful in any way.  Useful, that is, for protecting women and children.  There is one use, and that is to convince racist white people to vote Conservative so they can call in to complain about people of colour doing things they don't like.

My suspicion is that this hotline is purely an election ploy and will be quietly scrapped as soon as it has served its purpose.  Maintaining a separate law enforcement branch just to field complaints about people of colour is insane from any standpoint, but using it to leverage anti Muslim sentiment is working for the Conservatives.  Which is just another reason this election is truly sad.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


I just read an article entitled The Prison Problem.  It discusses the issue with mass incarceration in the US and the reasons for it.  The main thrust of the article is that the various explanations tossed around for the huge increase in the prison population don't adequately explain it.  This article and some of the replies to it illustrate the difficulties in having such a discussion even when the people involved might well agree with one another on many or even most points.

Clearly the war on drugs is a factor in prison populations.  However, we can't simply assume that we could end the war on drugs, pardon all drug offenders who don't have other convictions, and empty out the prisons.  That would only reduce the prison population 20%.  Now 20% is a massive 300,000 people and releasing them would make a ton of sense but that wouldn't bring the prison population in the US anywhere near in line with the rest of the world.  They need more like an *80%* decrease to comfortably blend with the mass of other large, developed nations.

The author David Brooks gets a lot of flak in the comments for pointing this out even though Brooks doesn't come out as supporting the war on drugs in any way - he is just making it clear that you can't chalk everything up to this one factor.  Unfortunately that sort of thing gets people riled up even if he isn't disagreeing with them.  The US imprisons about as many people per capita for non violent drug crimes as many other nations imprison for ALL crimes.  That has to stop... but doing so won't suddenly end the prison population problem and pretending it would is counterproductive because it blocks discussion of other important issues.

Brooks also talks about mandatory minimum sentences, and this is where he goes wrong.  He says that since average sentence length hasn't increased over the era where mandatory minimums were in place, obviously mandatory minimums haven't done much.  That is ridiculous because mandatory minimums change all kinds of things about the system.  They encourage people to plea bargain even when innocent or when they should be getting a much lighter sentence.  They force the judicial system to hand out longer than appropriate sentences.  If the average sentence length is the same, then it is far more likely that without mandatory minimums sentence length would have dropped, overall convictions would go down, and the prison population would be drastically less.  Estimating how much of an impact this has had, however, is really hard.

Lastly Brooks talks about how there are issues with prosecutors pushing for harsher sentences and more convictions, which I would believe but don't know a lot about, and also mental institutions being emptied and the people therein ending up in prison, which I know is a real problem.

Unfortunately when you write an article about highly politicized things like drug policy, prison sentencing, and mental health you are going to end up in a quagmire of anger no matter how reasoned you try to be.  Even tacking on an addendum of "but doing this won't solve X problem completely" brings out the rage in people who want to see this being done.  Reading these articles and particularly the arguments in the comments really makes it clear how elections end up being about building walls across entire national borders and a handful of women wearing scarves - it is nearly impossible to talk about real issues in a nuanced manner without running afoul of people who you don't actually disagree with.

I am not putting Brooks on a pedestal here, keep in mind, nor trashing him too badly.  He wrote an article whose central message is that the prison population problem is complicated and cannot be explained by one or even two simple factors - it is a result of many things and they should all be considered.  That central thesis is certainly true.  He got some things right and got wildly misunderstood... but he also got some things wrong, and because this is the internet he got wildly misunderstood about those too just to make everything super confusing.

I struggle with this whole thing with my writing on a regular basis.  If I write too quickly, with too little thought and research, I get called out for being wrong.  Sometimes I am wrong, and sometimes I am just misunderstood.  But taking the time to write and research well, and putting enough down on the page that everything is extremely unambiguous, is a big project for both me and those reading it.  So much easier to just yell about Mexicans and Muslims and terrorism and call it a day.  Sadly, that also appears to be the thing that works to get you elected to high office too.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Be afraid

This election is bothering me.  The Conservative ad style is certainly part of that, but the thing that gets me is not that their ads so obviously appeal to racism and irrational fear, but that people so clearly fall for it.  It isn't even subtle - the last Conservative ad I saw was a picture on Facebook of a fighter jet in flight asking "Do you want your government to protect you from terrorism?"  Fighter jets are basically worthless in protecting us from terrorism and even if fighter jets were doing something useful against terrorism, terrorism is one of the smallest and least significant threats I can name.

Television sets falling on people and killing them is a far greater safety concern than terrorism.  Bathtub falls, being killed by moose, and food poisoning are all more dangerous than terrorism to Canadians.

All of which makes it clear that ads suggesting that the Conservatives are going to be the best party to protect us from terrorism are ridiculous.  Who cares who is the best on terrorism?  Far more important to be the party against television sets!

The niqab thing is just as bad.  A handful of women who have revealed their faces to secure their identities want to wear a veil during a public ceremony.  Or, you know, do the ceremony in a private space with only women around.  Either way, it is entirely irrelevant.  There is no threat of people somehow sneaking in the back door this way (they have to have been here long enough to qualify for citizenship!) so the only reason for this debate is to stir up xenophobia and racism to get people to vote Conservative.

The niqab debate is a tiny, niche issue, which appropriately would be addressed by a minor bureaucrat putting an addendum on a procedure noting an exception to custom.  Which will be used once a year.  The idea that the government ought to be hugely concerned about this is ridiculous.

And yet, the public is all about this stuff.  Conservative support is surging, and not because of the economy where Harper has a terrible record, or transparency where his government is awful, or indeed anything else of substance at all.  They are surging on racism, and ridiculous fear based on even more racism.

That is the sad thing here.  Not that a bunch of politicians are trying to make us vote for them on the basis of racism and fear... but that it appears to be a good strategy.

Canada, please be better than this.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An offer you can't refuse

I have often heard that The Godfather movies are a thing everyone should see.  They were often pitched as some of the best films ever, and my not having seen them was a sign of my vast ignorance of popular culture.  This past weekend Wendy and Elli were away at Guide Camp so I sat down to try to correct this lack and expand my mind.

I think it worked, but maybe not the way people intended.

My general impressions were similar to other people.  That is, there was a lot to like about the movies, the first two were obviously better than the third, and iconic scenes from the movies are rightly an important source in popular culture.  I wasn't nearly as impressed as I had hoped to be though, and the reasons are largely the same ones that caused me to be unimpressed by 2001:  A Space Odyssey when I saw that movie back in high school.

The thing that got me was how slow the movies were, especially the long scenes in Sicily in the middle of the first Godfather.  There was a huge amount of stuff in there that was totally unnecessary to the overall plot and in my mind even detracted from it.  My theory about why it was there is twofold:  First, it was there to establish mood, which worked.  Secondly it was there because at the time it was shot such scenes would be a lot more impressive than now.  These days I can use Google maps to see any place in the world any time I want.  I can type in a type of celebration into youtube and watch a full length video of it.  I don't need random stuff like that in my movies unless they are very brief because I can get that at will.  Go back a ways though and scenes from far away lands and unfamiliar cultures (not to mention different times!) are significantly more exotic and interesting... to the large majority of the audience who hasn't seen that stuff first hand, that is.

It is similar to 2001 where there were overly long scenes of spaceships hanging in space.  I am sure that when the movies were shot those scenes were impressive to the audience but to a crowd of people used to Star Trek movies they were simply boring.  Many of the scenes in the Godfather movies felt that way - like they were trying to show how impressive the medium was rather than trying to tell the story in as tight a fashion as possible.  Similar to how 3D movies initially had tons of BOO scare stuff where objects flew out of the screen at people but nowadays 3D is generally much better used.  Directors aren't trying to show off the medium anymore, but are just using their tools to tell their tale.

I enjoyed the movies, and I am glad I saw the first two.  The third Godfather I could have done without.  In particular I will now be able to pick up on more cultural references to them, which will close the immense gap I have in that department some small amount.  However, I can't claim that they were amazing, rather just that they were interesting.  And hey, they got me thinking about how I think about film, so that at least is something.