Somebody should explain that her award is not made out of flatbread

For the first time since I started eating meat again last winter I actually feel glad to no longer be vegetarian.

Why?

Well, each year PETA holds a contest asking people to select, from a list, the sexiest male and female vegetarians. In the past they have managed to pick actual hot people like, say, Kristen Bell. I was fine with that. I approved of the taste (zoinks!) of my fellow vegetarians.

This year, however, they picked this fucking idiot:

Yup, Kellie Pickler herself. I have to tell you, I’m not wild about the idea of being associated with people who would think that someone so spectacularly dumb could pass for sexy, let alone sexiest. So for now I’m gonna go stand over here next to these guys holding the pork chops.

Venn mega

Some people understand something better when it’s explained to them in words. Personally, I prefer to see a picture. More specifically, I like charts.

Scott Adams (of Dilbert) wrote about this topic yesterday, prompted by a bit he saw on Bill Maher’s show.

The other night on Bill Maher’s show he held up a pie chart showing the percentage of U.S. corporations now controlled by the government. It was a tiny slice, more of a line than a wedge. Bill’s point is that we’re not on the verge of becoming socialists. That was an interesting graphic and very powerful for his argument.

What prompted me to write this was an email GB sent me today, a Venn diagram in Lifehacker I’d seen a few days ago and forgotten to star in Google reader (and thus forgot where I’d seen it):

The Venn diagram may be my favourite chart type. My favourite Indexed cartoons are Venn diagrams…

…and one of my favourite tshirts is this one from Diesel Sweeties:

Of course, charts of any flavour can do a good job of conveying lots of information in a tiny package. Last week I wrote a whole blog post about three good charts. Two weeks ago I made my own chart to illustrate the ideal conditions for emptying my PVR. I subscribe to feeds like The Economist’s daily chart and Flowing Data ’cause there’s always something interesting in there.

I very nearly drew a chart to explain how useful charts can be, but that seemed redundant. And overly geeky.

Waging a war on knowing what a war actually is

A few weeks ago the Toronto city council voted to reduce Jarvis Street, a north-south corridor running from midtown Bloor to the downtown core, from five lanes to four. Despite the facts that the city is woefully behind on its plan to implement bike lanes around the city and that Jarvis was a nightmare for cyclists, residents of affluent neighbourhoods like Moore Park and Rosedale (which feed into Jarvis) complained about the estimated two minutes this would add to their trip downtown. This action, following on the heels of a decision to increase the number of intersections at which drivers cannot turn right on a red light from 98 to 108, spurred drivers and mock newspapers to accuse the city of waging a war on cars.

While “war on the car” is a laughable notion — shame on the NAACP for waging war on white people! — Toronto isn’t the only large city sparking talk of war by trying to introduce more pedestrian-friendly measures. Something similar is happening in New York, where the transportation commissioner has closed off the Times Square portion of Broadway to car traffic and made it pedestrian space. In NYC it’s more clearly cast as a culture war (“To her opponents, she’s the latest in an extensive line of effete, out-of-touch liberals: the hipster bureaucrat.” and so on), though it takes little imagination to see that’s the underlying sentiment in Toronto as well. Class wars doesn’t play well here, so it gets dressed up as inconveniencing the poor drivers — for heaven’s sake, the Tamil protests last month drew far more attention from furious drivers than from the politically curious — but a quick read through the comments in any Globe, Post or Sun article about these changes reveals the target of drivers’ ire: hippy tree-huggers and socialist city councillors.

This nonsense seems to have faded now, but it lingers just enough that the architects of recent plans (albeit starry-eyed ones) to unfuck the drab and puke-stained entertainment district have felt compelled to reassure drivers that John Street will still allow cars. But a side proposal in the plan may actually be what causes drivers the most consternation, and holds the most interest for me personally: councillor Adam Vaughan would make Richmond and Adelaide streets — currently one-way streets running west and east respectively — into regular old two way streets. Star columnist Christopher Hume writes:

Because both Adelaide and Richmond are four-lane roads, conversion from one-way to two would be possible.

Right now neither street sustains the kind of vitality as King, Queen or College Streets. The one-ways are largely back streets west of Yonge, and expressways to the east.

The Bay doesn’t bother to dress the Richmond St. windows of its Queen St. flagship store.

Those descriptions are accurate. The stretch of Richmond between Yonge and University feels shockingly like a back alley except that cars blast through it at highway speeds. And therein lies the difficult decision: leave the only (and I do mean only) quick crosstown driving options as they are, or turn them into real streets again. Since I live smack in the middle of Richmond and Adelaide I’d love to see them become more like real streets instead of lifeless trunk highways, but I also understand the practical applications of keeping them one-way. I’m pretty certain that a compromise can be found to appease drivers and pedestrians, locals and commuters, without resorting to pouting, posturing accusations like “the war on cars.”

Apathy

Sorry for the lack of blogging this weekend. I have lots to write about, I just didn’t want to be in front of a computer. It was too nice outside. There were dogs and patios and barbecued meats. There was Kings and True Blood and The Hangover. There was sunshine and friendly visits and relaxation. There was the end of the hockey season and, just now, the end of the basketball season. There was running and strolling and utter domination at Wii boxing.

Most of all there was a relaxing weekend, and the blog just felt like work. So did Twitter, apparently.

Maybe tomorrow.

"Recruited for moral judgments"

Earlier this week in the Toronto Star John Sakamoto (who I thought wrote music…but whatever) did a brief story about Cornell research entitled “Morality rooted in disgust“:

Researchers at Cornell University tested a group of people from politically mixed swing states for both their political ideology and their “disgust sensitivity.”

“Participants who rated higher in disgust sensitivity were more likely to oppose gay marriage and abortion, issues that are related to notions of morality or purity,” a Cornell news release concluded.

“People have pointed out for a long time that a lot of our moral values seem driven by emotion, and in particular, disgust appears to be one of those emotions that seems to be recruited for moral judgments,” said study leader David Pizarro, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell.

I’d never thought of it this way, or rather never would have guessed that such a correlation existed, but it makes sense. I think this is a big reason why liberals get so frustrated when arguing with conservatives, and vice versa. If one side is arguing based primarily on emotional response, and the other primarily on logic (or, at the very least, less emotion; I took the inverse reaction to mean logic, but may have overstepped…in any case I consider logic by no means guaranteed to be any more “correct” than emotion, misused as it often is) then the two are not only unlikely to agree, but may have trouble even understanding where the other is coming from.

The lead researcher does, however, caution against using disgust as a core influence of morality:

“Disgust really is about protecting yourself from disease. It didn’t really evolve for the purpose of human morality.

“It clearly has become central to morality, but because of its origins in contamination and avoidance, we should be wary about its influences,” Pizarro said.

The authors explain a bit further:

As Martha Nussbaum has pointed out in her treatment of the topic, “… throughout history, certain disgust properties — sliminess, bad smell, stickiness, decay, foulness — have repeatedly and monotonously been associated with… Jews, women, homosexuals, untouchables, lower-class people — all of those are imagined as tainted by the dirt of the body.” (Nussbaum, 2001, pg. 347)…Whether or not moral disgust can be of value in keeping people from committing unethical deeds remains an open question, but given the amount of damage disgust is capable of inflicting on innocent people, at the very least it seems as if we should be careful to monitor its influence in the courtroom, in public policy decisions, and in our everyday interactions with others.

This makes the thought of conservative (socially conservative, not fiscally conservative) lawmakers and so-called “moral” leaders very worrying. Disgust is a very subjective concept, and says as much or more about the judges as about those who would be judged. I fear the consequences of laws and moral judgments with such dubious, irrational origins.

Chartsngraphs

It’s data! It’s pictures! It’s learning!

First up, from The Economist, we have the rate of new AIDS infections plotted next to condom use.

Not to sound disrespectful or anything, but…suck it, Pope Benedict.

Next, the NY Times shows (or showed, about a month ago I guess) in several countries the relationship between the speed with which we eat (controlling for the average amount eaten, I assume) and the obesity rate.

That gap between the obesity rate in Canada and the US seems about right, matching the representation in this (rather long) graphic courtesy of Mint:

Wow…do the suicide rates and murder rates balance out?

By the way, you should click through to see the rest of that Mint post to see similar charts on the economy, environment and military of these three countries.

"Give them the safe home they deserve."

Last week the Globe and Mail broke a story about the Toronto Humane Society, and about the conditions some of the animals are kept in. Since then the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has suspended the THS’ affiliate status. I’m not entirely sure what that means. I’m also not sure how bad the pictures that accompany the Globe story are; I can’t bring myself to look at them. Hurt and sick animals distress me, and if I looked at the pictures I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

I’m conflicted about this story. The descriptions of the conditions in the shelter sound awful, but I know the entire truth rarely gets reported in the media. Animal protection & care is a big issue for me, and both Nellie and I make monthly donations to the THS. It also hits home for me because of these guys:

Just over six years ago Nellie and I went to the Humane Society and adopted dumbass and dumbass jr. up there. We saw no evidence of mistreatment, but we weren’t back in the cages, just in the visitor section. We were interviewed extensively before being allowed to adopt. We literally got cheers from the staff and some visitors when we came into the room to take them home. They were microchipped and given shots. Michael (the sit-ee in the picture) was quite healthy, but Sonny (the sitter) was a little sick. A vet visit, some rest and he was good as new. Cranky at first, but over the six years he’s become highly affectionate, especially right after he wakes up from a nap. They were abandoned twice before we got them, and I wonder if every time he goes to sleep he wonders if he’ll be abandoned again when he wakes up. He never is, and we get ten minutes of (rather smothering) affection every time. Michael’s a different story: he is perpetually the most affectionate cat I’ve ever seen, and will follow us around the apartment until we sit down and he can climb on us and purr. He likes us a lot, and he’s clearly glad that we adopted him. He may be an idiot, but he knows that he lucked out.

Who knows what would have happened with these guys if they hadn’t arrived at the Humane Society, and then come back again? Maybe they would’ve been ok. Maybe they would’ve been given to a family that didn’t take care of them. Maybe they would have died of exposure in the winter. They’re just one case, but put together all the abandoned and mistreated animals in this city and I’d have to think the Humane Society’s helped far more animals than it’s harmed. In fact, most of the allegations of abuse seem to stem from the fact that a) they’re too slow to euthanize animals which would be put down elsewhere, and b) they’re overcrowded, probably due in part to their policy of not euthanizing.

However, I urge you to read the lone comment at the bottom of the Globe story, posted by a former OSPCA affiliate. I’ve pasted most of it here:

Ultimately, the responsibility for the welfare of our pets falls on the shoulders of the owners. Pets need to be kept safely within the home, not allowed to wander. They need to be spayed or neutered to avoid unwanted offspring. They need medical attention and love.

With the housing boom over the last years in the GTA, shelters are bursting with animals that have been rescued off the street or worse. They often come in injured, and usually have picked up colds or viruses.

This puts a huge burden on the shelters, financially and in terms of space and manpower. It also is very difficult for workers to watch day by day the number of incoming animals (particularly cats) that nobody comes looking for. It’s as if these poor, frightened creatures were trash, not loving companions.If shelter workers lose patience with people, it’s understandable.

Well said, and I hope that resonates. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need a Humane Society, and in a better world than this they wouldn’t be nearly this busy or crowded. Hopefully whatever problems they’re having can be straightened out and they can get back to sacrificing their time and energy on saving animals from our collective neglect.

"That doesn't take courage."

Last week Nellie and I were among hundreds who flocked (ha) to see Christopher Hitchens deliver a lecture about the ten commandments at the Royal Ontario Museum. Attending lectures at museums isn’t my usual Tuesday night activity, but when given the opportunity to see hear as eloquent a speaker as Hitchens on such an interesting topic, one makes exceptions. His lecture covered the expected ground, familiar to anyone who’s read his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything or heard his recent debates with religious leaders. After forty minutes he took questions from the audience, some insightful, some rambling, one angry.

During the less interesting of the questions I found myself drifting off, thinking about two CBC articles I’d read earlier in the day. The first concerned a young girl in Manitoba whose mother and stepfather sent her to school with Swastikas and other white-power symbols on her skin. Following the investigation which uncovered neo-nazi materials in the apartment as well as general evidence of neglectful parenting, the girl and her brother were seized. The stepfather filed a constitutional challenge on the basis that “his right to freedom of expression, religion and association were violated when the children were apprehended.” Predictably this story was met with horror, and condemnation of the parents for teaching hate to an eight-year-old.

The second article described a law, passed earlier that day in Alberta, allowing parents to pull their children out of classes dealing with sex, sexuality or religion. Teachers fear this leaves open the possibility for parents to file human rights complaints against them based on what they teach in their classrooms. I suppose it would be possible to read this as relatively innocuous, that there are a few parents who are extremely sensitive about what is taught to their children in schools rather than at home, and who would like complete control over that. But the set of targeted topics — sex, sexuality and religion — are all pet topics of social conservatives and make clear the intention of the bill. The language of the bill’s legislative supporters point — none too subtly I might add — in the same direction. Conservative MLA Rob Anderson said (emphasis mine), “There are thousands and thousands of parents, the silent majority, severely normal Albertans that are extremely happy with this legislation…” Reaction to this story, while strong, has been less universal than that garnered by the budding skinhead. Clearly there is enough support for this for the bill to have passed in the provincial legislature.

To me, both stories are about intolerance. In one case parents are explicitly teaching a child to be intolerant of other races. In the other a new Alberta law gives parents the right to keep their children from hearing presumably progressive discussion about sexuality and religion. Note: I say presumably for two reasons: 1) this is Alberta, traditionally a far more conservative province than the rest of Canada; 2) a provincial school system actively teaching regressive views on sexuality (e.g., homophobia) and religion (e.g., creationism) would immediately fall under national criticism, which Alberta’s has not, so one can only conclude the parents supporting this bill must be concerned about their children being exposed to topics such as gay rights or evolution.

So why isn’t the second story as widely and vociferously condemned as the first? Is it because the intolerance is passive rather than explicit? Is it because the Alberta bill is intolerance dressed up in doublespeak (the afore-mentioned MLA finished the above quote  thus: “…, that believe it’s right to affirm the right of parents as being the primary educators of their children on these subjects.” The stepfather in Winnipeg is no doubt counting heavily on a similar interpretation of this right now that his little girl’s Swastika tattoos have been discovered) and legalese? Or is it that claiming religious sanctuary still affords one a certain amount of license to be intolerant in the public eye?

I suspect it’s all of these. The first is perfectly understandable: racism is repugnant to most, and Nazi fascism is universally despised outside of a few pockets of extremism, so any right-thinking person will be horrified at the idea of an eight-year-old being taught this filth, even if the parental law in this case is a gray area. The second is unavoidable; politicians and special-interest groups will always find ways to obfuscate their true aims by wrapping bad intentions in good rhetoric: patriotism, family values and so on. The third explanation is most frustrating, but also gives me the most hope. I’ll explain:

Look back at the first sentence in my last paragraph: not many would argue with the statement “racism is repugnant to most” and yet, not long ago, this simply wasn’t true. Far from it. But just two generations removed from Jim Crow, the idea that lawmakers allowed (let along condoned) “separate but equal” treatment based on skin color is nearly unfathomable. Given that, I have no reason to think homophobia will follow any different a track than racism. Now, I have no delusion that intolerances like racism or sexism have been wiped from our lives, but in each case society has eventually progressed to the point where — for the most part — it no longer creates or allows law which systematically oppress people. Arthur Schopenhauer said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” It takes generations to think away intolerance, but it does happen. For gay rights I think we’re somewhere between Schopenhauer’s second and third stages. For secularism I think #2 is just getting heated up.

Mr. Hitchens concluded his response to one of the final questions (which ran something along the lines of, “Plenty of religious people are good, and religion can be helpful. Would you oppose that?”) in this way: he had no issue with anyone who found comfort in religion, and that indeed it could be helpful, but two things must be kept in mind. First, the devout should not be able to impose their religion on those who do not want it — he used the example of attempts to force the teaching of creationism in various school boards in the US. Second, the devout should not suppose that religion somehow excuses immoral behaviour.

If you want to hear the podcast of the lecture, you can download it here.

Look at it.

What a brootiful day in the neighbourhood. First I slept in (a little, anyway), then my brother sent me one of the funniest pictures I’ve ever seen and I laughed myself stupid. Then Nellie and I went out (I wore my new shirt) to procure meat, veggies and cheese from St. Lawrence Market for tonight.

Then off to Andrew Richard Designs where we bought a small bench for the balcony before discovering an awesome new place in which to get full & silly: Betty’s. I’m not sure how we’ve missed it in the two years we’ve been living down here: it has a pretty good beer list (e.g., Hacker-Pschorr, Blanche de Chambly, Mill Street Tank House), decent food and a nice big back patio. We’ll be going back. We might actually go back tomorrow.

OK, guests have arrived, I’m off.

My father's day memory can beat up your father's day memory

Men’s clothing store Harry Rosen is currently having a father’s day contest (the name of which is written above) in which they call for stories from clients about their fathers. I submitted mine a few minutes ago, and thought I’d share it here. Those of you who were there will know that I might have taken a teeeeensy bit of creative license, but it’s harmless and doesn’t affect the main thrust of the story.

My dad rarely wears a suit. He’s a farmer. He spends his days up to his elbows in tractor parts and soil samples and power saws. Suits are for weddings, funerals and Sunday service…anything in a church, basically. But when he does wear a suit, he wears it well. He’s easier in a suit than he should be, this farmer, probably something to do with his years in college when you still had to wear a jacket and tie to dinner. And suits seems to bring something out in him. The rascal. No, wait, rascal’s the wrong word for him. The scamp. It brings out the scamp.

My wedding, for instance. Very casual, held in the winter at a small private club (I’m not a member, we just talked our way in) with close friends and family. We have cocktails beforehand in the lounge. My brothers and I stand near the piano, drinking our drinks, talking the talk that older brothers give the last to get married. About to set down our drinks, we notice a small sign that reads, “Please don’t put glasses on the piano.” My dad, standing nearby, quietly says “I’ll show them.” He takes out his reading glasses and sets them on the table in raw defiance of the letter, if not the spirit, of the sign. He doesn’t wait for a laugh. He doesn’t even really expect us to notice. He just says it for the joy of dry wit and goofy rebellion. Of being a scamp with his boys. As we begin to laugh he sticks his farm-weathered hand in his pocket, turns and strolls away. Goddamn if his suit doesn’t look even better on him than it did a minute ago.

That’s cool. That’s style.

Now, I enjoyed writing that, so if that’s as far as it goes, fine. But if I win a $2500 Harry Rosen gift card for that entry, well, then so be it.