Sunday, August 31, 2014

No strategy

Obama recently revealed in a press conference that the US currently has no strategy to deal with IS / ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  While his opponents are making much of this I think stating that there is currently no strategy in place is pretty much the only reasonable thing to say.  What alternative would other people suggest?  Bomb Assad and help IS?  Bomb IS and help Assad?  Put enough troops on the ground to keep all groups apart and prevent any fighting?  All of them are ludicrous.  The IS situation is a disaster in the making for Western democracies and even worse for people living under their regime but there is no response that seems likely to actually help that I can see.

I will take Democrats over Republicans if I have to make a choice but even then I am no Obama booster.  He has done no end of awful things while in office but I think this decision is on the money even if the way he put it isn't necessarily politically astute.  I suspect he would have done slightly better with "Our strategy is to keep IS from expanding with minimal use of force and to use diplomacy to try to end conflict."  It would have been useless nonsense but it might have gotten him in less trouble.  There are times when military intervention is likely to produce a positive result - like kicking Iraq out of Kuwait, for example.  The best objectives are clear, simple ones that can be accomplished without fighting people who are supported by the local population.  No such thing is possible in Syria or Iraq at the moment and we all know it.

The US has a giant gun and their leaders seem disproportionately happy to use it to try to solve problems, even problems that are obviously not solvable with a giant gun.  This is one such case.  Even though I think that the horrors that are unfolding in IS territory and otherwise in Iraq and Syria are terrible and I wish we could fix them somehow sometimes walking in with a giant gun simply won't improve things.  Far better to admit that a problem is complicated, even impossible, than to wade in with a giant gun and open fire without being sure that doing so is truly the right answer.

Wait and See isn't a good rallying cry for the troops but if I had to follow a leader I would infinitely rather a leader who is willing to wait and see when that is the best course of action instead of charging off foolishly in a misguided attempt to look decisive and heroic.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Life is hard when your parents are gay

A few weeks ago I watched The Birdcage, a movie about a clash of cultures between a gay couple who run and perform in a drag nightclub and a straight couple who are classic religious conservative types.  Their children are getting married and that generates endless fodder for comedy.  I hadn't watched it before but the folks I watched it with had memories of it being a deadly funny movie.  It had some good moments to be sure but overall it was more depressing than anything.

The real trouble with the movie is it feels like I am supposed to be sympathizing with Val, the prospective groom who is embarrassed by his gay parents.  He spends the movie trying to get one of his parents to move out of their own house because he can't bear them being introduced to the straight parents, acting like his parents are being awful people for being themselves, and being amazed that everyone doesn't want to deny their lives and experience for his convenience.  In the end he finally relents and admits that his parents are in fact his parents but he only does it once the jig is well and truly up and there is no possible way to lie any more.  Telling the truth as an absolute last resort is not a moment of redemption.

It strikes me as though I am supposed to agree with Val's position and find his behaviour reasonable, or at least defensible.  After all, his parents are super weird, right?  Instead I see him as entirely despicable with no visible redeeming value.  To me he epitomizes an insidious form of bigotry - "I am not a bigot!  I just think everyone should arrange their lives to do whatever the bigots want.  That means it is totally the fault of the bigots and not me!"  When you make it clear that we all should pander to the oppressors and take their worldviews as automatically more worthy then you support that oppression.

I suspect the movie is just showing its age.  Back in 1996 when it was released Val's position would have been much more widely accepted in society.  I can't help but wonder if I would have had this sort of reaction at eighteen had I seen the movie then.  I lacked a great deal of experience and perspective at that age but I certainly wouldn't have had any sympathy for the religious folk at the time.  Over the past eighteen years though public perception has substantially shifted and the idea of two gay parents in a mainstream movie is a lot more normal than it once was.

In a world inhabited by Gay Caricatures and Straight Caricatures you need a normal person to provide context for the comedy, for the audience to empathize with.  (Said normal person would normally be called the straight man, but that would be super confusing here.)  When that normal person is replaced by Jerk Caricature though the whole construction really fails to work.  I can easily see how this movie could be rewritten with fairly small changes to make it enjoyable for me but as it is it feels more like a sad documentary on how crappy people can be instead of a lighthearted comedy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Muzzle me this

There is a lot of talk in Canada over the past few years about the muzzling of scientists.  The Conservative government has, quite rightly, taken a lot of flak for going out of their way to prevent scientists employed by the government from discussing their findings from the public.  The reason why is crystal clear - they want to make decisions based on intuition, greed, ideology, or disregard for the environment and they don't want information out there that detracts from the stories they tell to justify their decisions.  If the only story the public has access to is the official government line then those that object will lack concrete data to make their points.

I found an interesting article that supports government silencing of scientists on the grounds that public servants should, as part of their jobs, always support the decisions of those higher than them in the hierarchy.  The author points out that their views have already been considered and presumably found wanting so therefore they should have nothing left to say on the matter and should support the decisions of their bosses.  It is suggested that providing information that runs contrary to the decisions made would somehow 'undermine the trust essential to an effective working relationship'.

If government scientists were only being limited to not actively campaigning against policies they already had input on this article might have a leg to stand on, but that is not at all the case.  As this rebuttal describes, many scientists have been prevented from giving policy neutral information about their research out to the public by policymakers.  This is disastrous from the perspective of wanting an informed populace in general, but also greatly disturbing in that people trying to argue the benefit of policies such as other political parties are not privy to all the relevant facts.  When the government has direct access to scientific information and prevents both the public and their opponents from accessing that information we cannot have a transparent and free society - the founding principles of effective democracy assume that the people can learn about what decisions are made and why.

Moreover we must remember that scientists are still citizens.  They should be able to argue their positions and point out relevant facts just as anyone else can.  Of course we should not assume that anyone in a white lab coat is an expert on public policy and assume that they are better qualified than the actual decision makers to make tough choices.  Sometimes they will be right and sometimes they will be wrong but they need to be able to speak so that we can see which is which.  When employed by the government people need to implement policies they may not agree with, that is certain, but they also need to be able to speak out about their feelings and the facts they are aware of so we can all see exactly what went into making a decision.

If the government's decisions cannot stand on their own merit when exposed to the light of day and the marketplace of ideas then they should not be implemented.  Policymakers do not have to listen to any given scientist, nor bow to any particular agenda no matter how well supported by facts.  What they should have to do is let all of us see exactly what the facts are so we can see the why and how of the decisions for ourselves.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Talking is hard

I just found a really disturbing article explaining that the secret to not getting shot by the police is to always do anything they say without question.  It is dressed up in concern for the cops - after all, their job is hard, dangerous, and they have to make difficult judgement calls in tense situations.  Of course preschool teachers have to make difficult judgement calls in tense situations, and fishermen have higher mortality rates than cops, and call centre employees have a rougher job but any fisherman / phone salesperson / teacher who wrote a piece explaining that everyone should do anything they say or get savagely assaulted wouldn't get published in the Washington Post.

The fundamental thing that the cop in question seems to be confused about is his job description.  His job is not to make people do what he wants, it is to protect the populace.  If a situation is not violent and he initiates violence *he has failed*.  His duty, his calling, his job is to protect people.  All people, no matter their colour, dress, attitude, employment status, criminal status, or anything else, deserve that protection.  When a cop's job description gets misinterpreted from protecting people to protecting the cop's pride and authority disaster looms.

Many people seem to think that cops deserve respect, obedience, and deference simply on the basis of wearing a badge.  They don't.  Nobody deserves special treatment simply on the basis of passing an exam and collecting a paycheque from a particular source.  If people want respect, they earn it.  If cops want people to trust and respect them they need to do things that will create that.  When a cop commits a crime, they need to go after that cop the same way they would anyone else.  Every time the cops close ranks and treat their own as more important than everyone else public faith and respect fades away, as it should.  If cops want to be treated as paragons of virtue they have to first act like it.

There is also a desperate confusion about the way in which violence starts.  Heavily armed police officers do not encourage people to be obedient pacifists - rather they give people the correct impression that the police view them as the enemy and that they need to be armed and ready for violence themselves.  The response to people being angry at cops is not an arms race!  Does anyone really believe that humans respond to more violent, aggressive, militaristic opponents by thinking "Wow, I sure do trust and respect those folks!"  If you want to avoid being involved in violence, don't bring violence to the table.  There is a reason that police who are not armed both kill and are killed drastically less.

I will give the article one bit of credit - the author is in favour of constant recording of police activities by body cams.  We know that they reduce police violence by large amounts (this article claims 60%) and complaints by even more.  Cameras are no perfect solution but they will be a huge step forward and they will definitely improve accountability.  Even if the tape is never used an observer creates a huge incentive for good behaviour as anyone who has ever screwed around when the boss is away knows.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

More testing required

I have been playing with a model for objects impacting the earth.  It is designed to let people toy around with various settings - size of object, speed, distance of observer from impact point, etc.  It seems pretty cool at first but they seem to have used some formulas and then forgotten to properly check for edge cases.  For example, if you set it up so that your observer is inside the fireball created by the impact it will give very incorrect answers as to how big the fireball appears.  If you posit that the object is bloody enormous, it will inform you that a new asteroid belt forms from the remains of the Earth, that there will be a crater 164,000 km wide (much larger than the Earth itself), and that the tilt of the Earth's axis will not be significantly altered.  Test that code more!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Onward and upward

The area where I live is undergoing massive growth.  Within two blocks of my condo building there are at least nine new high rise buildings under construction or working towards that.  Yonge and Eglinton is on a massive growth spurt, no denying it.  The thing I find funny about that is how people react to growth so negatively.  We don't have a choice in the matter - people are moving to Toronto so we either have to drop more housing subdivisions into productive farmland outside the city and make our commuting problem even worse as well as increase our environmental footprint or we have to build upwards and fit those people into ever larger buildings.  

When I talk to people about this though they generally seem outraged at any new construction project.  It is almost a personal affront that someone would build a new building in an area they were perfectly content with.  Noise often comes up as the thing they are concerned about but there simply isn't any other choice.  If you want to live in a vibrant city that is happy and successful then you have to accept that other people will want to live there too and that means construction.  The only way to avoid construction is stagnation and I hear that Detroit isn't that great a place right now even if the construction noise is at an all time low.

There are always challenges of course.  The subway stop near my place is going to need to be expanded to accommodate a greater number of people and crowds in the stores nearby are going to be bigger.  It is totally reasonable to be concerned about those things but we all need to accept the reality that the status quo isn't an option.  The only way to keep people from coming in is to live in a place that other people don't want to be and Surprise! that isn't a very appealing option.  There is lots of land way up north where nobody will bother you by building things beside your home - any takers?

Generally people do want things to just stay the same.  Sometimes that is possible but generally it is far healthier and more realistic to expect that things will continuously change and this is absolutely true in cities.  That perfect balance where growth and decline cancel each other out is not something we can create but we can make choices that push us towards one or the other.  We don't get to pick between growth and stasis, rather we get to pick Toronto or Detroit, building or demolition, noise or silence.  Given those as our realistic choices I think we should be celebrating every new building that rises toward the sky - it is a sign that something is going right.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


In my post about Wendy's PhD ending and what it means for me I talked about supporting her doing a PhD.  I also expressed the fact that I personally don't care at all about the PhD.  Her happiness is very important to me but the piece of paper she has decided to pursue is not.  I had a few people comment on this, saying that my version of 'support' wasn't really cutting it.  I think most people would expect me to be a cheerleader, to talk about how wonderful the PhD is, how much sense it makes, and what a good idea it was.  In my position I suspect most people would publicly support the endeavour while cursing it in private.

I don't roll that way.  I am very willing to let my partner go and do the things that are important to them and I am willing to provide logistical, financial, and emotional support.  What I won't do is lie about the way I feel about their projects and that extends to both public and private discussions.  I also expect the same thing in return when I do silly things like spend years tweaking a board game, playing WOW obsessively, or writing an RPG.  Those things aren't earning money, they aren't supporting us, and yet I fully expect my partner to let me do them and assist me when I need a bit of help.  What I don't expect is for them to tell me that these projects are super important and worthy if they don't believe that and I certainly don't expect them to tell anyone else that either.

A lot of people need to convince themselves that their side projects are practical and defensible from a pure economic advantage standpoint.  They desperately want that justification for their passions.  I don't feel that need, nor do I particularly understand it.  The only justification I need for the things I do for fun is that they are fun.  I make games because I want to, because they challenge me, and because they bring me joy.  Nothing else is required.  The same logic applies to my partner's projects, including the PhD.  I don't need to claim that it is a good idea economically, or that it is the right thing to do, or that the decision is sensible.

What I do claim is that I love Wendy and I will support the things she does even when the cost is tremendous, even when I don't see the point myself.  I don't need to think of them as the right thing to do to accept that it is the thing she wants to do.  I can and will support it even if I don't get it, even if I disagree, because my support is not contingent on me believing in a project, it is contingent on me believing in my partner.  I don't want a sycophant for a partner and I refuse to be one.  It is infinitely more powerful for my partner to back me *despite* not understanding why I do what I do than it is for them to back me by pretending that my stuff is all objectively justifiable somehow.

I won't say "You are doing the right thing honey!" if I don't believe it.  I will say "I am here to help, regardless of whether or not I think it is the right thing."  I get that most relationships and most people don't work like this which is why I am so glad I have the partner I do.

(If you think that the PhD is somehow economically justifiable and therefore exempt from this argument then allow me to assure you that I have done the research and the math and that is not the case.  Don't bother with that argument.  The PhD was done, just like my games, out of passion and desire.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Yelling at people in cars

I have been thinking about how we might go about making our roads more polite and consequently more safe.  I have observed in person and heard plenty more about people who are absolutely enraged on the road.  They insult other drivers, cut people off, and freak out when somebody does something they do not expect.  I think a major factor driving this is simply our inability when driving to say "Sorry."

Considering this I pondered what would happen if we could send messages to other vehicles around us while driving.  Obviously we couldn't let people compose things as they drive because that would be incredibly dangerous and they would mostly spend their time spewing hatred and harassment about.  However, if there was a very limited set of things you could send then I think it might be useful.  For example, if all of the things we could send were:  Sorry, Excuse me, Angry, Hello, Bye, and Thanks I think it would work fine.  We could communicate, people would have a chance to be nice to each other, and when mistakes happen people can wind down more easily if they have received an apology.

What would be even better though is if you could program your car to say whatever you want based on those simple emotions.  If your car said "Apologies guv'na" every time someone sent Sorry it would be a lot more fun.  Especially if other people sending Angry messages it would be hard to get worked up if it came out of your speakers as "Woof, woof" or "I have anger management problems."  Of course there would need to be controls so that cars wouldn't be spammed with messages but I think that would be fairly straightforward to include.  Only accepting a single message from a certain car would be good, except that Sorry would be allowed following another message just in case.

All of this is never going to be implemented of course since driverless cars will be the norm far before this sort of thing ever got up and running.  At that point you can just keep signs saying "BITE ME" in your car and plaster them up against the windows if you really need to express your grievances with other vehicles.  That is, when you bother to take a break from streaming movies *cough* porn *cough* while your vehicle chauffeurs you through the streets filled with other robot cars.

Friday, August 15, 2014


I am on vacation in Nova Scotia visiting Hobo.  Wendy and I are here on what we our calling our PhD honeymoon to celebrate the end of the PhD era which is why my blogs have been somewhat neglected recently.  The PhD isn't actually done, though we are on the very cusp now but the vacation was booked so vacation we took!  It has been a wonderful time sitting on beaches, rafting through 3 meter waves in the Bay of Fundy tidal bore, and playing tons of board games.  Mostly we have eaten very well  and responsibly but today I decided something truly decadent needed to eaten for lunch.

Hench I fried up a ton of bacon leaving a huge pool of bacon grease in the frying pan and then cooked pancakes in the bacon grease.  It was sort of like deep frying them, and the pancakes obligingly soaked up all the bacon grease and became huge, bloated mounds of dough suffused with the delicious taste of fried pig.  YOM.

A holiday full of boozing, watching movies, good food, great games, no child to chase after, and the best of company.  You don't dare ask for more in a vacation.

I would totally ask for more, but I am greedy like that.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I listened to the professionals and look what happened

Sometimes you can listen to movie reviewers because they say things that are useful, perhaps even indicative of skill at evaluating movies.

Sometimes you cannot.

In particular the reviews of the movie Hercules said that The Rock said a lot of things and bashed a lot of things and if that was all you wanted in a movie then Hercules was a fun, good romp.  I like The Rock saying things and bashing things.  I like silly action movie romps.  Unfortunately Hercules was absurdly badly written to the point that no amount of hilarious, over the top violence could salvage it.

Villains that show up in the last ten minutes of the film to monologue the entire plot and then are killed in a scene that is supposed to be somehow satisfying?  Check.

Dialogue that would be wooden and stilted coming from an angsty teenage writer?  Check.

Scenes that made absolutely no sense, failed to forward the plot in any way, and completely blew immersion out of the water?  Check.

Thing is, Hercules almost had a great thing going.  There was a constant theme of questioning whether or not Hercules was really a magical son of a god or just a mighty warrior with a bunch of absurd stories told about him.  The bard with Hercules was clearly embellishing his exploits and yet he was obviously capable of superhuman feats.  The scene after the main movie ended was wonderfully done and revealed some of the mystery, capping off the theme in a very satisfying way.

Unfortunately nothing else about the movie was good, aside from the actors and actresses being fantastic eye candy.  However, there is a way you can watch the movie and salvage it but it requires quite a narrative stretch.  Instead of watching the movie and thinking "This is happening" you need to watch the movie and think "This is the story of what happened being told in a ridiculous way by a storyteller years after it happened"  That makes everything work!  The plot is contrived, the villains over the top, the lines ridiculous, but that is the way a story is often told when it is being retold orally far after the fact.

So there you have it.  The only way Hercules is good is if you pretend that it is a bad retelling of a good story and appreciate how clever they are to retell a good story that you didn't get to see in an awful way.  Then you can be stunned at how pervasive the "It is real?" theme was and what genius it took to write the movie this way.

Or you could just assume it is a crappy action movie that will rapidly fade to obscurity and watch something good instead.

Friday, August 8, 2014

This time things will be different

My life is going to be different soon.  Wendy's PhD is finally closing out and we will be free of the shackles that have held us in place for so long.  We will be free to move away, pursue other opportunities, consider jobs in distant lands, begin life anew!  But anyone that knows me knows that we aren't going to do that.  We are going to stay right here because Toronto is home and it has lots of great people I have no interest in moving away from.  Life will be very similar in that she will go to work in some lab but with more freedom that we have little interest in exercising.

The real changes will occur largely inside my own head.  When Wendy and I got together part of her focus in life was getting a PhD.  It was made abundantly clear that she was going to do this and that should it come down to a choice between pursuing the dream and being with me that the dream would win hands down.  Of course our commitment now is bigger than that but at the time I needed to be completely on board with this as the one greatest goal.  I never have understood that drive and I suspect I never will but I accepted it as part of the package.  Unconditional support of the PhD, no matter what that entailed, was a price I was more than willing to pay to be with the love of my life.

I never thought the price would be so high.

Not just in money, though $350,000 is a pretty big chunk of change to spend on what is, for me, a wall decoration of little aesthetic value.  It is easy to commit to supporting a thing when basically living the single life as I didn't mind working and living on one regular salary and one student stipend was completely comfortable for me.  Hell, at that pace I wouldn't much have cared how long it took.  Having a child changed everything though since we simply couldn't be happy with Wendy doing the PhD and me working while Elli was around.  We tried it for a few months and ended up miserable and stressed out with no time to enjoy each other or much of anything else.  For the last five years we have been living just on a student stipend, slowing watching our savings dribble away to nothing.  For me in particular knowing that we are losing money all the time no matter how little I tried to live on made me crazy.  Year after year of skipping out on things I wanted to do just to save $5 really got to me.

It is especially challenging to support something that has a definite end when you have no idea when that end will occur and can't help it come faster.  For years people would ask me about doing things and I would bow out based on time, money, or energy and they would want to know when the PhD would be done so I could get back to normal.  I would give the timeframe I had been supplied with and then that timeframe would pass and no end was in sight.  After hearing that refrain a dozen times people got confused and started asking if something was terribly wrong and I had nothing to say in reply.  How do you respond to people worrying that there is a terrible tragedy in your life when you feel so frustrated about it yourself but desperately want to support your partner?  I was never able to find the right answer.

The thing that is running through my mind today as I consider that things are close to done, that Wendy will have a real salary soon, that she will be able to finally shed some of the stress that has been clinging to her for a decade now, is that our dynamic is due to change.  Our lives won't be run with a single goal trumping all others.  I said I would support her dream of getting a PhD and I have but never did I say that her dreams would rule over mine for all of our days together.  Of course she hasn't asked for that and doesn't expect that but there is no question that there is going to be a dramatic shift and we don't know where it will lead.  Our relationship has been dominated by one thing and our big choices have always been based on that and suddenly we are adrift, without a course to steer by.

Instead of making decisions by first checking to see what the PhD requires we will make them by asking "What do we want?  What will make us happy?"  If a job is being awful and stressful Wendy can quit.  I can work, or she can work, either is fine, but being tied to any particular arrangement or workplace is no longer required.  It is certainly a relief to think that our major life decisions will be primarily guided by our desire for happiness rather than getting a bunch of old scientists to sign a particular piece of paper but there is no question that it will take some getting used to.

I am reminded of a time about 11 years ago when I first told Wendy that I was making a decision and it was final.  I informed her that we were not keeping a crappy futon and that I was going to buy a good couch.  If she disagreed I would have simply thrown out the futon myself and bought a couch anyway.  I knew I cared a great deal about this and she did not and I made the decision.  This was exactly the opposite of our usual process where she would make the final call and it stunned her.  She quickly accepted that since I felt so strongly about this one thing we should just do that but it was a turning point for us - usually the things I care about are so esoteric that they don't influence most domestic decisions in a relationship.  (The fact that the University should really cost 7 and the Factory should cost 8 in a particular board game is of great interest to me but really not something we would fight about.  If we did fight about it, I would bloody well win.)

Going forward we are definitely going to have a lot more decisions like that, where we do what I want because it is more important to me than to her.  She is still probably going to make 80% of the final decisions because I still mostly care about ridiculous things but everything will have to be negotiated from a very different standpoint than ever before.  Our lives are going to be good, really good, in a myriad of ways.  Less stress, more freedom, more money, and we get to do some fun small things we have been waiting on until the PhD is finally done.  It will be different though and transitioning to a new style is going to have its own challenges.  No matter the challenges I am ready to begin the next stage of my life alongside the person that I have wanted to spend all my days with ever since that fateful moment at the corner of Belsize and Forman those 12 years ago when I fell heads over heels in love and thought "Uh oh."

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Opinion vs. policy

There is often confusion about what exactly people are entitled to when it comes to opinions.  Certainly people are entitled to hold whatever opinions they like - even people holding the most offensive an awful beliefs I can imagine are entitled to hold those beliefs.  However, the reasoning that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs is far too often used to justify changing public policy.  You are entitled to think anything you damn well please, but if you want to alter public policy you had better be able to prove that the policy you want is based on facts and will actually help other people.

You want to hold the opinion that gay relationships aren't as worthy as straight ones?  Cool, hold that opinion.  I will hold the opinion that you are a grade A shithead and we can have fun holding our opinions together.

You want public policy to penalize, refuse to recognize, or otherwise disenfranchise people in same sex relationships?  Sorry, no go.

Feel free to substitute anti vaccination stances, transphobia, sexism, racism, climate change denialism, or any other variety of bigoted or uninformed nonsense in the sentences above.

Not only are you not entitled to set policy, you aren't even entitled to a seat at the table.  Not all opinions are equally valid when making policy decisions and nobody is required hear out opinions that are based on faith rather than facts or hate instead of tolerance.  You might well be able to get a seat on a news program where they compare somebody representing established truth vs. fantasy and pretend like those are two equally valid standpoints but that is luck or politics, not a right.

Your right to think whatever you want inside your own head is absolute and it is something I will fight for even when the views you hold are reprehensible.  But your right to hold those views ends where they negatively affect others so if your views are going to hurt people and/or have no basis in reality then you had best be prepared to sit down and shut up when it comes time for all the grownups in the room to make real, important decisions.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The gravy train

Today I took Elli to the park and we splashed in the wading pool a bit.  It was spectacularly cold but incredibly refreshing; I am willing to put up with one to get the other it would seem.  It made me sad to look around the pool though and see the waste sitting on the sidelines.  By waste I mean the lifeguards.  Two of them, guarding a wading pool about forty centimetres deep.  Both of them staring at their cellphones, bored out of their bloody minds.

"So Kimmy, what is your summer job?"

"Well, I spend five minutes in the morning turning a knob to fill a pool, five minutes in the evening turning a knob to empty a pool, and EIGHT HOURS sitting in my chair wanting to die, being completely and utterly useless."

"Surely you do something during that eight hours?  Interact with the children in some way?"

"Yup.  Every so often I tell the children to stop doing fun things because, you know, rules."

That, right there, is a truly miserable way to spend public money.  I don't have a problem with hiring teenagers to do things as I am sure there are certainly plenty of useful things we could have these kids do without changing the economic situation in the slightest.  They could plant trees, pick up garbage, or run games for the kids.  Anything, really, except ten minutes of trivial labour and eight hours of trying to prevent children from having fun.

When people complain about how tax money is spent I want to shout at them that the best thing to start cutting is the people we hire whose job primarily consists of making people unhappy.  If we want to find savings a good spot to begin is to be willing to accept it isn't the job of society to provide a bulletproof defence against foolishness.  In fact I think we really ought to notice the benefits to society that exist when children learn a bit about being responsible for themselves instead of leaning on the assumption that something will always catch them when they fall.

Maybe I should get Rob Ford down here and show him an actual cut he could make to Toronto's expenditures that wouldn't just gut services.

As a pretty random addendum, what is up with pool rules?  I saw a rule recently that read "No street clothes allowed because the clothes might get discoloured due to the chemicals in the water.  Pregnant women and grandmothers excepted."  Juh?!?

Friday, August 1, 2014

The person is not the movement

Lately I have been seeing a lot of confusion between movements and the people that identify within them.  The one that made me the saddest by far is Women Against Feminism.  It is mostly a bunch of pictures of women holding up placards that describe why feminism is bad and they aren't part of it.  It contains lots of treasures like this one:

Look, I know jars are a serious problem but even if feminists generally wanted to kill or banish all the men there are nifty tools that let you open jars.  They have a handle and a circular piece of rubber that fits over the jar lid.  So really, don't worry about that.  Also seriously feminism is not about murdering, imprisoning, or sequestering all the men away.  It is about securing equal rights for everyone not forwarding the cause of jars at the expense of women.

I get why this lady thinks this.  She probably got exposure to some self identified feminists who really hated men and spent a lot of time vilifying them and that was not appealing.  If you think that feminism is all about hating men then rejecting it isn't just understandable - it is the only reasonable choice.  What positive endgame can a movement based on nothing but hatred have?

Pretty much all of the other pictures posted in that forum follow the same tale, though by and large they are more tragic than humorous.  They generally assume that feminism is synonymous with rejection of heterosexuality, child bearing, and having happy relationships of any sort with men.

Here is the thing.  There are people who claim they are feminists who believe those things.  A few radical feminists regularly argue these exact points and like most extremists they get more press than the middle of the road people who have much more representative and reasonable viewpoints.  When you openly reject a movement that has such admirable stated goals though you owe it to yourself and everybody else to take the time to seek out those moderate views.  There is always a danger in assuming that a single spokesperson adequately represents an entire group.  Particularly when you see a huge movement that has a huge number of members and which does not control who is a member you absolutely need to avoid finding the most ridiculous person that is part of it and projecting them onto the whole.

Another good example of this issue is Richard Dawkins as a figurehead for atheism.  Dawkins really knows his evolution and when he is talking purely about science he is a good person to listen to.  He is for many people the de facto spokesperson for atheists.  Unfortunately he sometimes goes on to talk about things he really doesn't know anything about and ends up saying things that range from somewhat problematic to really awful.  When he does this he ends up with a ton of atheists defending him from criticism because they identify him as such a critical part of their in group.

I am an ardent atheist and thus I would really like it if Dawkins as a prominent atheist was always right.  But he isn't.  He bones it up and when he does I absolutely have to call him on it.  Trying to defend him in order to defend atheism only ends up painting atheists as dogmatic and selfish, not to mention often as misogynists.  Plus people campaigning against faith as a way of life should really recognize just how much better their case is when they demonstrate the ability to change their minds and only support that which is logically and morally defensible instead of mindlessly defending The Cause.  Don't confuse Dawkins' blunders with the group as a whole - he is a widely recognized member, not some invincible avatar of scientific skepticism.

Humans have a remarkable tendency to get too wrapped up in our leaders.  We imbue them with magical powers and think of them as either evil incarnate or without flaw.  We also conflate supporting a cause or set of beliefs with supporting those associated with it.  Ideas and causes can be flawed but they are often a product of the imagination of many minds and much iteration towards excellence.  People on the other hand are a total mess and much more prone to screwing things up.  Whether you love a cause or hate it you really ought to very firmly and deliberately separate the cause from the foolish exploits of a tiny number of prominent people who are involved with it.