Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

1/6/2006

Up is down. Black is white. Increased taxes are tax relief.

File under: Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:27 pm.

Could someone please help me make sense of the (partial) Conservative tax plan? Pretty please? Because -

A Tory plan to raise personal income taxes on low income earners is part of an overall tax strategy that will result in more tax relief for Canadians, Tory MP Jason Kenney said Friday.

- and I cannot for the life of me fathom a universe in which raising taxes on low income earners could possibly be part of an overall tax strategy that will result in more tax relief for Canadians. The rest of this article, as I read it, seems to consist of “seriously, it IS, we swear”, followed by some chit-chat about the party’s much-maligned proposal to cut the GST, and then this:

Kenney said they voted against the Liberal tax cuts [income tax cuts - MS] because they disagreed with their fiscal priorities, adding they would have “spent smarter and cut taxes deeper.”

What? No, I - what? The Conservatives would have cut taxes deeper, and that’s why they’re…increasing income taxes? Does this remind anyone of preschoolers fighting? “I don’t like you, even though I kind of like your toys, so let’s play a game that I hate.”

Maybe this will all make more sense when the party announces its tax package, which it hasn’t done yet, but really, why bother? Seems to me that “tax hikes=tax relief” is more or less on par with “0=1″ in terms of starting points; in other words, is there anything this tax package won’t promise?

In the meantime, have at it, readers. Bonus points for using Tarot cards and Ouija boards.

12/13/2005

Quick, somebody hand me a violin that only dogs can hear:

File under: Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:45 pm.

Paul Martin, who shall remain nameless, has hurt David Wilkins’s feelings:

“Just think about this. What if one of our best friends criticized you directly and incorrectly almost relentlessly? What if that friend’s agenda was to highlight your perceived flaws while avoiding mentioning your successes? What if that friend demanded respect but offered little in return?” Wilkins asked.

I’ll be honest: I’d feel pretty bad.

Then again, my mommy always said that if your best friend doesn’t visit you for thirty years and imposes tariffs on your lumber even when NAFTA tells them not to and doesn’t seem to mind deporting your citizens to be tortured in foreign countries, then maybe they’re not really your friend after all.

12/5/2005

There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t

File under: Righteous Indignation, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy, Semitism. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 6:21 pm.

You’ve probably heard of this one by now, if not this year then any of the last ten: Christmas is under attack! And I for one am having trouble choosing sides, because I can’t decide whose position is more compelling. Do I ally myself with the devout Christians who get the vapours whenever someone wishes them a sectarian Happy Holiday? Or should I instead join forces with the sensitive secularists who opt instead to pay due respect to those other religions that celebrate their tree-based holidays by engaging in a frenzy of consumerism in the days weeks leading up to December 25th? These, it appears, are our only choices in this war; “ignore this holiday and the accompanying propaganda entirely” isn’t on the table, which means that just like in a real war, the bulk of the casualties in this one are innocent civilians. As a vegetarian infidel whose family never ever celebrated Christmas, it might seem that I’m predisposed to being more sympathetic to the hippie heathens, but damned if I wouldn’t rather listen to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album on repeat than be subjected to rallying cries like this one here:

“At Rideau Hall, we will be putting up a holiday tree as we find it reflects the traditions of many cultures, and it is inclusive,” Rideau Hall spokeswoman Lucie Brosseau said.

Jesus wept. Not the Christian Jesus, mind you - the other Jesus, the inclusive one who represents the traditions of many cultures.

I assure you that the “we” that finds the history of all traditions great and small to be reflected in the magical Holiday Tree does not include any real-life Jews, Hindus, or Muslims, regardless of what the persecuted Christians may have you believe. And that’s the really mind-numbing aspect of this: the unfounded assumption that people who don’t celebrate Christmas are in fact on board with these inane gestures to pretend that Christmas by another name is somehow a whole ‘nother holiday. No, I would bet hard cash that the “we” that Brosseau references is a subset of earnestly sensitive, yet oh-so-ignorant semi-lapsed Christians who don’t believe in God or Jesus anymore, but who still celebrate Christmas because doesn’t everyone celebrate Christmas? I mean, some people may call Christmas something weird like “Chanukah” or “Diwali” or (God help us) “Ramadan”, but it’s basically the same thing, right? This “we” are the ones who puzzle over whether to put up Christmas trees in deference to their more traditional families and neighbours, or whether they should instead put up more inclusive holiday trees; it never occurs to them that they don’t need to put up trees, period, and that in fact most people in the world - and some even in this very country - don’t. And that some of those people don’t think that the end of December is sacred in any way - or, at least, they don’t think it’s more sacred than other months.

These are the folks who think that nomenclature is the single thing standing between an intolerant Christian society and an enlightened, multicultural one. There’s not a practising Jew in this country, I promise, for whom the generic, inclusive holiday tree - not to be confused with the nigh-identical Christmas tree - brings to mind the story of the Maccabees’ triumph against the Greeks. I assume that followers of religions that don’t even share part of a Bible with Christians aren’t going to be thinking inclusive, tree-inspired religious thoughts just because someone says they should. The holiday tree’s not a Jewish icon, and to pretend that it is - to tell a group of people who don’t adhere to your religion which icons are involved in theirs - that, in my view, is far more offensive than simply displaying bona-fide religious symbols in public. And that’s what pisses me off the most about this war: not the idiotic assumption that saying Happy Holidays constitutes persecution of Christians, but rather the idiotic idea that a few function calls of Replace(”Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays”) somehow amount to a genuine understanding of, and respect for, cultural diversity.

So while I’m certainly an opponent of this war, I’m having trouble working up a whole lot of partisan rage over it. Because what do we have? - we have one side insisting that Christmas music and Christmas greetings be ubiquitous…and the other accepting the ubiquity of Christmas iconography and culture but changing a few words here and there; not even thinking about how we have Christmas Day as a statutory holiday rather than a floater - those non-Christians can use their own personal leave time to celebrate their little holidays, after all; and unironically making a point of mentioning Chanukah - the single least important Jewish holiday - whenever they mention Christmas. And both sides fancy themselves martyrs.

It’s almost enough to turn one into a pacifist.

11/26/2005

Things that shouldn’t remind me of my adolescence

File under: When We Were Young, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:49 pm.

I didn’t date when I was fourteen. The main reason was the lack of prospects, to be fair, but on top of that I simply wasn’t interested in dating when I was fourteen. At fourteen, I gazed briefly into that abyss, it gazed back into me, and I turned away and didn’t look back until I was old enough to vote.

I didn’t date when I was fourteen, because the sorts of fourteen-year-olds who dated were kids like Jessica and Matt, and it takes a special kind of self-loathing to want to be like Jessica and Matt. Jessica was this cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girl who was ambitious in the way that cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girls often are. Her ambitions at fourteen, as prescribed by Seventeen and YM and other such tomes, included acquiring a boyfriend, and she did, in Matt. As for Matt…well, Matt was a nice guy, not particularly attractive or athletic or smart, but inoffensive enough that he was pretty well-liked, if not terribly popular. Matt didn’t talk much, but that wasn’t because he was boring. And it wasn’t because he was insecure, either. And it certainly wasn’t because he was a loser. He was just…thoughtful, you know? And sensitive. Thoughtful and sensitive.

I sat behind cute, perky, naïve, fourteen-year-old Jessica and her cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old friends in class, so I got to hear all about Matt’s shortcomings from the day that he and Jessica started dating until the day that she broke up with him two months later. An abridged list of infractions, as best I remember them lo these many years later: Matt didn’t seem to really be as into the relationship as she was. He didn’t make time to see her. He hadn’t remembered their one-month anniversary! And worst of all, he didn’t seem to want to talk about their problems and stuff. Which she totally didn’t get, because he was such a sensitive guy. But he was really starting to piss her off.

Then why don’t you break up with him? I wanted to ask each and every time this topic came up, but I was never part of the conversation, so I stayed silent. That was the thing about cute, perky, naïve fourteen-year-old girls when I was that age: they never included me in their discussions, but they didn’t seem to mind talking about all sorts of things when I was around. They probably assumed that I wasn’t listening. But of course I was listening, because what else was I going to do in the few minutes before science class started? Once when I was seventeen I made the mistake of indicating that I actually did listen to what my classmates were talking about, and I will go to my deathbed regretting that one, because that was the last time I ever heard about what Alyssa’s twenty-year-old boyfriend was like in the sack.

Anyway. That was Jessica’s side of the story. I never heard Matt’s, but I have a feeling that he didn’t really talk about their relationship to his friends. I suspect that sometimes his friends brought it up, in a teasing way, but mostly he’d try to change the subject, because the whole thing embarrassed him. The impression I got from Matt was that he thought - hoped - that if he ignored this relationship, it would go away. After all, he had never wanted a girlfriend. He didn’t know what to do with a girlfriend! For crying out loud, he was fourteen! But then Jessica had kinda latched onto him for awhile, and she was nice and all, and they sorta became friends, and then she said something about going out, and before he knew it she was saying that he was like her boyfriend, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, you know? I mean, it wasn’t that he didn’t like her - he liked her a lot, and she was cute, cuter than he thought he deserved - but…they didn’t have much in common, you know? And now she kept acting all disappointed that he wasn’t doing stuff she liked, but he didn’t know where she had ever gotten the impression that he did that kind of stuff, because he’d never said he did. It was like she expected him to be cooler than he was, and seriously, that was getting really annoying. Oh, God, did that mean he wasn’t even cool enough to break up with her? How do you even break up with someone, anyway? He still wanted to be her friend and everything.

Why I am writing about this now? Because I think about Jessica’s fantastical expectations of her hapless boyfriend whenever I read the most recent report about how very disappointed Bono is in Paul Martin.

[Update: Oh, Lord, I wrote about this before? How embarrassing.]

11/5/2005

I’ve known politicians, and you, Mr. Martin, are no politician

File under: Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:25 pm.

Our poor Prime Minister - even when he wins, he loses:

Canadian voters have forcefully rejected Mr. Justice John Gomery’s exoneration of Prime Minister Paul Martin for the sponsorship scandal in a new poll that vaults the Conservatives in front of the Liberals for the first time since last spring.

You know, this never would have happened under a Chretien government. Because Chretien’s bumbling-fool act was just that: an act. He wasn’t such a…such a bad politician that he’d ever openly and repeatedly declare his innocence when implicated in a scandal, offer himself to be judged by the courts, be exonerated, and then somehow get slaughtered in the polls anyway. Seriously, how uncharismatic do you have to be to have people hate you even more after they receive evidence that you didn’t do the thing they hated you for in the first place? (Mind you, there’s a simpler explanation for these poll results: Canadians aren’t favouring the Conservatives because of Gomery; they’re favouring the Conservatives because the Conservative leader haven’t been talking very much lately. That party’s failure to stick to that winning strategy during actual campaigns is what causes their numbers to plummet in the weeks leading up to elections. See also: federal elections, 2004, 2000.)

Under a Chretien government, this wouldn’t have gone to the courts in the first place. It would have spent a few days, maybe a few weeks, in the news. There’d've been some murmurs about a sponsorship scandal at some point, and then Chretien would have dismissed them. He’d have been hounded by reporters for a few minutes, and he’d have made some statement of the form, “Geeez, are you still thinking about this? Get over it! So someone didn’t keep track of some money a few years ago. Who cares? Geeeez!” This statement would have gotten a lot of airplay, and then Canadians would have spent a few days, maybe a few weeks, reacting indignantly: The arrogance! Can you believe it? Our prime minister is such a disgrace! And then something else would have bumped this complete non-issue off the front pages. No one would have even thought of calling, or demanding, a snap election. A few months or years later, there’d have been another election anyway, and Canadians from Newfoundland to British Columbia would have gone on and on about how they couldn’t stand that fool, Chretien, but then they’d have given him another majority government anyway.

The reason that Chretien had no trouble winning majority governments and (grudging) support, while Martin is struggling mightily in both areas, isn’t because scandals came to light during the Martin years, while the Chretien government was scandal-free. Oh, no - apparently there’ve been enough scandals during the Chretien years to fill a book. But the first line of the single review of that book, from one Brent Colbert, says it all: Just finished this book and couldn’t believe how many of the scandals I had forgot over the last decade. Oh, Brent, we’ve all forgotten them. We’ve forgotten them because Chretien, unlike Martin, had taken to heart the first fundamental rule of high school debating, which is this: you must concede nothing to the opposition. Even when they’re right. Especially when they’re right. When your opponents accuse you of, say, corruption or fiscal mismanagement, you obviously don’t confess. Everyone knows that. Less obvious is the fact that you also shouldn’t deny it. Because when you deny it, you’re agreeing with your opponents in that corruption or fiscal mismanagement is wrong. You’re handing them that point, and they will run with it. The best strategy, as we learned from the Right Honourable Mr. Chretien, is to roll your eyes and call your opponents stinky poo-poo heads. You’re above their stinky poo-poo head accusations, and you don’t want to talk about them anymore. And poof! Those accusations don’t spend six months on the front pages of newspapers, and you win.

Maybe I’m giving the guy too much credit. Maybe he was simply, as many people said, inarticulate. Maybe it wasn’t a strategic evasion of big questions so much as an accidental avoidance of them that kept his scandals off the front pages and his ass in the prime minister’s office.

But in that case, more power to him. Man was a born politician. You can’t teach that sort of talent.

(Looking for intelligent commentary about the sponsorship scandal and Gomery inquiry? Declan’s got it. In general, if you’re ever looking for commentary about Canadian politics or journalism from someone who knows what’s going on, and who can get through a sentence without snark, you’re a lot better off reading him than me.)

10/26/2005

‘A journalist doesn’t think she should know statistics. Bloody hell.’

File under: Sound And Fury, Queen of Sciences, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:38 pm.

Thus commented Geoff the other day. Timely remark, that one, for tonight a whopping eighty-five percent of Canadian adults waited eagerly to see if they took home the Lotto 6/49’s record-breaking $40 million jackpot, and we all know what that means: it means that it’s time for journalists nationwide to present us with a panel of mathematical geniuses who regret to inform you, Joe Ticketbuyer, that you’re probably not going to win:

The results of the biggest lottery jackpot in Canadian history will be announced tonight, but experts are warning people not to get their hopes up.

For the uninitiated: you play the Lotto 6/49 by selecting 6 numbers out of 49. You win (part of) the jackpot if all six of your numbers all match the six numbers drawn.

According to experts, this event - whose probability, by the way, I had my never-were-any-good-at-math-and-always-hated-the-subject psych majors compute in my discrete math class last year, and most actually managed to do so correctly - is unlikely.

What are the chances that your ticket will hit the $40 million Lotto 6/49 jackpot?

Not good, according to Simon Fraser University Professor (well, senior lecturer, but who’s keeping track? - Ed.) Malgorzata Dubiel. She has calculated that the odds are just short of one in 14 million.

All the while muttering to herself: “For this I got a Ph.D.?”

Semantic quibble: the odds are slightly better than one in 14 million; they’re one in 13 983 816. So I take issue with the use of the phrase “just short”, which implies “a bit less than”, no?

Anyway, is followed by three paragraphs about the would-be philanthropist who said he’d donate half his winnings to charity if he won the jackpot (he didn’t), and then this:

[Dubiel] also debunked the myth that a person can “crack the code” of lotteries.

“Everything we know about mathematics says no, it can’t be done.”

This makes it sound as though the sum total of the mathematical canon to date, from Archimedes to Zariski, was brought to bear on the age-old question of “Stochastic Processes: Totally Stochastic, Or Just Kind Of?”. And, at last, produced the long-awaited conclusion that as a matter of fact, God occasionally does play dice with the universe, at least when He’s choosing the Lotto numbers. On top of that, I wince at the “everything we know” wording, which is reminiscent of Underwood Dudley’s dealings with aspiring angle trisectors. Many of those sorry folks explained their obsession with the problem with something along the lines of “mathematicians say that trisecting an angle using compass and straightedge alone is impossible, but they’re just not trying hard enough.”

But I digress: whether or not the lotto code is crackable isn’t a mathematical question, dammit. If the code is crackable, it’s because the random number generator selecting the numbers is somehow not completely random, and seriously? Take it to a computer scientist, dude. (Except that…lotto numbers are still selected by that spinny thing with the balls, no? And we’re asking a mathematician if it gets all spinny on the balls in a crackable way? Is this what people start thinking when they watch shows like Numbthreers?)

Dubiel admitted that there have been cases of people winning multiple times, but put it down to luck.

Note the use of the transitional term ‘but’, which is typically used to contrast one idea with an ostensibly opposed one. As in, there’s an apparent contradiction between the existence of multiple lottery winners, and the absence of mathemagical gnomes that select them deterministically.

“People simply put too much faith in something that is just coincidence,” she said.

They’re also too easily wowed when mathematicians remind them of the stuff they saw in Chapter 8 in their grade twelve high school math text, but that’s neither here nor there.

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