Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Tidy Conundrum 1

Filed under: culture,fallacies,housekeeping,how to,naďveté,tidy conundrum — alison @ 21:41

(Possibly the first in a series.)

In my previous post I said that being tidy is hard for me because it’s complicated. For most people it’s the opposite. Trying to live and work in an unordered heap is complicated. Wandering through life quietly restoring objects to their rightful places is both obvious and rewarding.

So I thought I’d post about the things that my disorderly little mind struggles with so unsuccessfully. To start off: nail clippings.

I was brought up to clip my nails in such a way that the clippings would fly through the air and fall randomly to the ground. This always seemed a little odd to me. Breadcrumbs and sand are not disposed of by sprinkling them over the floorboards or the bedclothes, but apparently nail clippings are a special exception.

I thought I would be clever and cup my hand over the clipper to catch clippings before they flew off and collect them so they could be tidily thrown out. Well. It turns out that this is Gross and Disgusting. Approximately on the order of pooping on the table. I have been shrieked at for my little piles of clippings, and my first boyfriend almost broke up with me, shaking with rage, when I forgot to throw out my tiny heap and he came home and saw it. This is fairly easy to resolve, of course: only clip nails when utterly alone and with a waste-paper basket within your field of vision. But I was curious. I could imagine that social convention dictates that a piece of nail, once separated from the digit that produced it, becomes so revolting that it may not be looked at or touched. Social convention dictates a lot of things that don’t necessarily make sense. But do all my friends and relatives truly believe that these repugnant objects dissolve into the air or melt into the linoleum?

I asked around, and apparently it’s true. Those horrible nail clippings evaporate if you don’t look at them. And you shouldn’t look at them. They are abhorrent.

Okey-dokey. Nail clipping and disposal in secrecy it is.

It was one of the first things I asked Mark when we met. He has lots of strong ideas about waste disposal and I thought he would be able to resolve the conundrum of simultaneously acknowledging both social convention and object persistence with respect to nail clippings. My confidence was well-founded.

Mark’s answer: clip nails into the bathtub where they will scatter randomly and… provide invisible traction for your feet when you take a shower.

I actually think this solution is a little gross, but I am so relieved to be living with someone who has a rule about nail clippings that makes any sense at all that I don’t quibble.

So. You see why tidying is so complicated for me? Every individual item could get a whole blog post.


Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Tell me I’m wrong.

Filed under: children,consuming,fallacies,naďveté — alison @ 06:43

I’m fed up with all the pious concern about greenhouse gases. Really.

Most or all the remaining fossil fuel underneath the earth is going to end up as C02 in the atmosphere. The question is when: are we going to move it all from the earth to the air in the next 50 years? Or 200? But we are going to move it. So what’s the fuss?

No, we can’t compensate for fossil fuels in the air by replanting the forests we’ve cut down. The carbon that was in the forests is now in the air. If we replanted all the forests we cut down, they would suck up all the CO2 released by cutting down the original forests. The fossil CO2 would still be out there.

Besides, we can’t significantly replant the forests. Not without reducing the human population to below a million (and keeping it there). The land the forests used to occupy is needed for human habitation and agriculture.

It’s too late anyway. Does anyone remember when the Kyoto accord was signed? And how we were all so disappointed because it was too little, too late, and anyone who thought that Kyoto targets were meaningful had missed the point? Well. We’ve missed our Kyoto targets. And if they were too little, too late, then we are up shit creek, aren’t we.

I know it’s not polite to say, because having children is what people do and for most parents is the most (difficult but) satisfying part of their lives, but I honestly don’t know what people think they are accomplishing when they reproduce.

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Job-finding strategy

Filed under: naďveté — alison @ 15:00

Jean-François sent me this e-mail:

Notice into which category this ad was listed.
It looks like a serious ad.

Sad. Whether this is a specialised escort agency or an actual deluded young woman, sad that we think it could very well be the latter.

Young women often have no clear idea of what they can offer or what they could. If she’s truly “very ambitious” then she should be specifying that she’s interested in finance, or law, or retail, or hospital administration, or whatever field she wants to make a mark in.

Advertising for a CEO isn’t smart either. They need an admin who is on the ball and understands business priorities. She either lacks so much self-confidence that she’s bribing people to hire her because she doesn’t think she’ll be hired otherwise – in which case she would totally suck as an admin to a CEO. Or she wants money but doesn’t want to actually invest time in learning the business or even looking for work – in which case she would totally suck as an admin to a CEO. (If it’s just the money, the woman who replaced me in my old job was a 22-year old single mother with four years of work experience, a course in secretarial technology and an excellent reputation from her previous position. She started at $42k and did her job.)

In the business I’m in, she might have success being hired by a Director or VP. (Reporting goes Tech > Manager > Senior Manager [or Specialist / Professional > Senior Manager] > Director > VP > Executive VP > CEO.) An Executive VP or CEO can’t afford to take a risk with someone like her. Even then, she’d have to learn to construct and punctuate a sentence first.

Reminds me of those girls in high school you hear about who want to be neurosurgeons when they grow up but who don’t want to waste time in med school learning the ordinary doctor stuff. They just want someone to show them the neurosurgery bit so they can do that.

But the ad also reminds me of a young woman I knew in university, in a fourth-year cell biology class. She was smart in a lot of ways and a good student, but couldn’t envision a future for herself that involved self-reliance. She was inventing elaborate fantasies of advertising for a sugar daddy but hiring an escort for the actual face-to-face interaction with the daddy. I didn’t keep in touch with her so I don’t know whether she gave up on her knowledge and skills before ever putting them to commercial use, or whether she worked through it and developed a career in, say, pharmaceutical sales. Or something.

What other things do young people do who can’t envision adulthood? Drugs? Post-graduate studies?

(And do you think this is an actual young woman or an escort agency?)

*** *** ***
In case the link stops working, it’s an ad in “Casual Encounters,” and the text is as follows.

Discreet Sexy executive assistant

I’m a BAdmin Graduate. I’m looking for a job as a executive assistant for a business owner or executive, I have experience in the field, in Montreal, Florida, and New York when I studied at NYC. with 3 years of office experience.
I’m a print model, but would like to focus on the business world.
I have a very good computer skills, and extensive knowledge of most Microsoft office software in addition to photo shop, ….
I’m looking for, 37.5h week on 4 or 5 days
I have great people skills, very presentable and professional. drivers license, can run errands as well
I want to make clear that I’m not looking for a out of office relationship what so ever. but I know that it is easier to work when released from stressed. ;o)

I’m able to make presentations, make travel arrangement, prepare document and of course taking care of your needs… I also need a mentor as I’m very ambitious.
first interview will have to be done in your office as I won’t waste my time with fake offers.

salary 40k+,

the picture is just a idea
[photo lifted from a porn site of a woman in serious glasses and a pony tail sucking her fingers]

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007


Filed under: naďveté,taxi drivers,the other,women — alison @ 21:21

[Exchange with Mark, on a train in Holland]

We were settling in our seats when a vision of loveliness floated by us in airy layers of black and brown chiffon. I immediately understood the Arabian Nights tales where our hero nearly dies of lovesickness after glimpsing the beautiful princess. How do you know a woman is beautiful enough to develop an adolescent crush on if she is draped in loose clothing that only reveals her eyes? Well, you do.

Mark started to become visibly agitated. I asked him what was wrong and we had the following conversation.

Mark: My friend would be very upset if she saw that.
Alison: What?
Mark: A woman veiled like that.
Alison: Oh. Why would your friend be so upset?
Mark: She would say the woman was oppressed.
Alison: She’s a young woman travelling alone. I’d say that’s a pretty good sign of emancipation in any culture.
Mark: She was married young.
Alison: Who is she? What’s her social background?
Mark: Oh, her husband’s a factory worker or something.
Alison: I don’t think so. She’s extremely stylishly dressed. I don’t think factory workers’ wives swathe themselves in silk to take the train.
Mark: Well anyway, she’s isolated and not integrated. She can’t read. She doesn’t even speak Dutch.
Alison: [Craning to get another look at the woman, now seated a few rows down] She’s reading a book.

Hm. What a veil can hide and reveal are not necessarily what you’d expect.

*** *** ***
[Exchange with a Greek-born taxi driver in Mississauga]

Taxi driver: Immigrants have more rights than Canadians these days. It’s not right.
Alison: You weren’t born in Canada. Do you think you have more rights than I do?
Taxi driver: No, but I’m old school. In my day immigrants came to Canada and adapted. Immigrants these days go too far. Just look at the problems muslims are causing with their veils.
Alison: A veil is a declaration of faith. I see a cross hanging from your rear-view mirror.
Taxi driver: They take it too far. In Quebec they were having all that trouble because the women wouldn’t take off their veils to vote. They had to make a law.
Alison: Well, I’m from Quebec and I can tell you that when I go to vote nobody asks to see my ID. All they want to know is my address. If they don’t need to see my face, then they don’t need to see my muslim neighbour’s face either. It should be the same for everyone.
Taxi driver: That’s right! The same here in Toronto! They just look at my address. No ID. It should be the same for everyone! You’re a really nice person, do you know that?
Taxi driver: You’re such a nice person.
Taxi driver: Well have a good trip home! You’re so nice, I wish you have a really good trip.

I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to have a job where you work for tips by deprecating a group you belong to. It reminds me a little of a scene in Black Like Me where the author witnesses an elevator conductor charging passengers a dollar to kick his ass.

*** *** ***
[Exchange with a Syrian-born taxi driver in Montreal]

Taxi driver: I’m muslim but I don’t like it when women have to wear veils. That makes me angry.
Alison: Aren’t they a statement of faith? Don’t women choose to wear the veil to make themselves visible as Muslims to everyone?
Taxi driver: You know what I hate? When those hypocritical imams get up in front of everyone and say so sweetly that you have to treasure and respect women. And you know exactly why their wives can’t show their faces. They’re hiding the bruises and scars.

Friday, August 20th, 2004

Re: Fwd: Avoiding Genocide The right to bear arms could have saved Sudan

Filed under: Africa,fallacies,libertarianism,naďveté — alison @ 09:21

Jean-François replies:

A simple handgun, not a very complicated thing, no need for “gun handling and gun safety classes”, equalize a 92 lbs woman with a 250 men.

Furthermore, training does not need litteracy. Send UN arms trainers and give one 1911 .45ACP to every woman. Train weapon’s instructors (the few who are litterate) who will train others. Handling a gun is nothing but common sense. If you can surmount the danger of remaining alive in the world, you can learn gun handling.

And who cares about a few accidents happening, in comparison with the tens of thousand of people getting killed ?

This is one aspect that infuriates me most: equating accidental death to murder death.

No no no, that’s not what I meant at all! But it’s my fault, I didn’t express myself clearly. What I meant was: you have never been to Africa. Civil law is a rare and precious thing there. “Rights” and “control” as written in statutes have little meaning.

My mother put it succinctly:

Vivian_Cummins [] wrote:
I scanned the article quickly – and as you say – the authors understand nothing about Africa.

What struck me right away, about the article, was the underlying assumption that there was a rule of law. In truth, no one cares if you get a gun and ammunition – and no one will do anything to enforce laws, especially in a situation like Darfur has become. But it is true that access to weapons will be less available to minority or disadvantaged groups – hence the machetes, which have the advantage of not requiring bullets or maintenance


I of course, will go on and on…

With rare exceptions, these are not modern countries where each person has rights and obligations as a citizen. Rather, these are poor countries where people rely on networks of relatives, clan-members and ethnic allegiances to survive. The obligation to support a brother or sister (this could mean same-mother-same-father, or it could mean someone from the same general geographic area) in need is overriding. African students abroad regularly receive letters from home asking them for money to buy a sewing machine for a cousin, pay for a nephew’s school uniform and so on. And they pay up. They often find feeding themselves out of their constantly-chipped-away-at grant money to be a considerable trial.

In this context, if, say, a judge is faced with finding for a brother or a stranger, it will be extremely difficult for them to find against their brother regardless of the facts of the case. (And how do people get to be judges? They are appointed by people with obligations. There’s an excellent chance that the person who finangled their appointment to a judgeship was mostly interested in the payoff money, and only incidentally in justice.) What does civil law mean then?

Another problem is that government employees are not paid enough to live on. So they do the logical thing and implement fee-for-service. Traffic cops stop you, get into your car and instruct you to take them to the station. You then pay them to get out and let you continue. Alternatively they will stop your taxi, haul out the driver and start beating him up. You are expected to pay them to stop so that you can continue your journey. (If you think your driver deserves the beating you will take your time before intervening.) This happens especially just before major holidays when people need money and has little or nothing to do with the quality of driving. And no, don’t even think of complaining to their supervisor. This is what they are expected to do.

Instead, we find that people act autonomously to punish perpetrators. In the case of a car accident where a pedestrian is killed (it happens very often, expecially when country people unused to traffic — and carrying heavy loads on their heads that make it difficult for them to maneuver — ball their hands into fists, squeeze their eyes shut and charge out across the road) onlookers stop the car, haul out the driver, burn the car and beat the driver to death. If the pedestrian is not severely hurt, the drive may be beaten but not killed. Likewise, shoplifters in the market are pursued by mobs shouting “Thief! Thief!” and when caught are beaten to death. In the absence of civil law, people resort to this sort of thing to make sure that consequences stick.

At least, that’s how it happened in Nigeria in the late seventies, and it’s not unique. And no, it doesn’t prevent either traffic accidents or shoplifiting.

It’s also why Shari’a law is so popular. When there is widespread corruption and no civil law, people find it very hard to live together in large cosmopolitan communities. An advantage of Shari’a law is that it defines the community as Muslims. (Not citizens, but still it’s a step up from sister or brother.) So that there can be some hope of fairness. Judgements and consequences might not rely exclusively on who is related to who, or who can pay off the judge.

It doesn’t always work well, especially when co-opted by local thugs, but there aren’t always a lot of alternatives.

One thing I marvel at is that Jean-François the libertarian espouses an ideal world where people rely on their families and the government exists only to print money. In this world, rights and obligations are negotiated individually with each person you meet, on their merits. (To me, this means that there are no rights or obligations. It’s just a way of saying “take what you can get.”) In this world, you must be armed at all times for self-protection because there is no rule of law. There is no social safety net, so the poor, indigent and insane with no family able to care for them will beg on the streets exposing their sores and swollen-bellied infants hoping for pity from strangers.

This sounds very much like Darfur, or Liberia today (or medieval Europe). Nigeria was much better off, but one of the many lessons I learned there was that people who want to live a modern, cosmopolitan life, who seek education and experience and travel, who want to improve the lot of their fellow-citizens and the status of their country, who value peace and oppose war — these people think tribalism is an evil. And there are many, many of them. But without universally applied civil law, and without a social safety net that protects all citizens equally on the basis of citizenship regardless of ethnic or family affiliation, tribalism is a necessity of life.

Our modern policing and social safety nets were implemented by people who wanted something better than what we had. I think we need some respect for their experience.

I have referred to “Africa” in my discussion, though Africa consists of many countries and histories and each area is different. However, poverty and an agrarian tradition with the attendant marginal existence vulnerable to drought are common across the continent. As are the traditional attendant obligations to care for your sister and brother, and ambivalence regarding these obligations. Some countries are forging their own versions of modern nations in the midst of this — Uganda comes to mind. Other countries are not countries at all, but territories patrolled by thugs.

But the point I come back to is, you cannot apply a theoretical concept like “the right to bear arms” to a situation where rights do not exist. To have rights, you need citizenship. Darfur doesn’t have citizens or rights. And you can’t have “gun control” without civil law. Darfur doesn’t have civil law.

And I don’t mean Sudan doesn’t have constitutions or statutes; I mean Sudan (Darfur in particular) doesn’t have the social conditions for them to have any meaning.

[originally transmitted by e-mail August 20, 2004]

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

Fwd: Avoiding Genocide The right to bear arms could have saved Sudan

Filed under: Africa,fallacies,libertarianism,naďveté — alison @ 08:40

——Start of Forwarded Message ———
> From: jfa
> Subject: Avoiding Genocide The right to bear arms could
> have saved Sudan
> August 18, 2004, 8:24 a.m.
> Avoiding Genocide
> The right to bear arms could have saved Sudan.
> By Dave Kopel, Paul Gallant, & Joanne Eisen
——End of Forwarded Message ———

The National Review clearly understands nothing about Africa.

The relevant passages in the article Jean-François thinks will convince me that we all (everyone in the world, and in the particular case of me and Jean-François, Canadians) need to stockpile automatic weapons in order to prevent our governments from murdering us in our beds:

In Sudan, it is virtually impossible for an average citizen to lawfully acquire and possess the means for self-defense. According to gun-control statutes, a gun licensee must be over 30 years of age, must have a specified social and economic status, and must be examined physically by a doctor. Females have even more difficulty meeting these requirements because of social and occupational limitations.

When these restrictions are finally overcome, there are additional restrictions on the amount of ammunition one may possess, making it nearly impossible for a law-abiding gun owner to achieve proficiency with firearms. A handgun owner, for example, can only purchase 15 rounds of ammunition a year. The penalties for violation of Sudan’s firearms laws are severe, and can include capital punishment.

International gun-control groups complain that Sudan’s gun laws are not strict enough – but the real problem with the laws is that they can be enforced arbitrarily. The government can refuse gun permits to the victims in Darfur and execute anyone who obtains a self-defense gun. Meanwhile, the Arab militias can obtain guns with government approval, or the government can simply ignore illegal gun possession by Arabs.

*** *** ***

1) When I lived in Nigeria, the top reason for road accidents was illiteracy. The connection? Because an illiterate person cannot pass a driver’s test, they need to buy their licences from the officials under the table. From the official’s point of view, there is no point in trying to apply the law because few people read well enough to pass the test. Trying to evoke the concepts of “gun control” or “the right to bear arms” in this context misses the point.

2) Guns are very expensive. The preferred method of killing your neighbour in Africa is to hack them to death with a machete. (See Rwanda.) However, Sudan is generally heavily armed anyway.

3) Anyone who refers to “black” vs “arab” when discussing Sudan has never met anyone from a “black” or “arab” group. Or they have, and are deliberately misusing key words calculated to evoke emotional responses in americans.

From the Guardian, much better informed on international issues than the National Review:,,1268647,00.html

The Darfur war erupted early last year, when two armed movements – Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement – began a rebellion against a government in Khartoum that had neglected their region.

In response, the government mobilised, armed and directed a militia, known as Janjaweed (‘rabble’ or ‘outlaws’ in local dialect), using scorched earth, massacre and starvation as cheap counter-insurgency weapons. The UN has described Darfur as ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’. On Friday, the US Congress described it as ‘genocide’. The British government is considering sending in 5,000 troops.

Characterising the Darfur war as ‘Arabs’ versus ‘Africans’ obscures the reality. Darfur’s Arabs are black, indigenous, African and Muslim – just like Darfur’s non-Arabs, who hail from the Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa and a dozen smaller tribes.

*** *** ***

As you can see from my sharing of Jean-François’ post, I value diversity. But I wonder sometimes. From a review of “The Wisdom of Crowds” :

“Diversity is usually good, above all because it allows groups to acquire more information. But what is needed is not diversity as such, but diversity of the right kind. NASA’s judgment would not have been improved if the relevant officials had included members of the Flat Earth Society, or people who believed that aliens are among us or that space flight is simply impossible.”

[originally transmitted by e-mail August 19, 2004]

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