2008-4-8: Sometimes I like to rant. It's cathartic. Hopefully I will same something that makes you want to scream and shout "you moron! how can you say that?". And as I have no intention of giving you an opportunity to respond (this is my opinion-of-one forum and I'm not the slightest bit interested in giving you an opportunity to respond), you'll probably be extra frustrated that you can't get in the last word.
Too damn bad.
This is not democratic and I couldn't care less.
2008-7-18: And then, sometimes I like to write opinion pieces. The rhetoric (hopefully) will be more polished than the rants. Or not. We'll see.
Well, it's been a while. Which is not to say that I haven't been comtemplating — I've been busy getting on with life. I'd been an angry (no so) young man (not to be confused with an angry white male, which, despite being angry, white and male, I am not), but I'm mostly over that now.
Indeed, I would count myself in the "not a supporter of the Donald" camp. As such, I've been struggling for a year now to come up with a succinct description of the Donald. Here's what I have:
I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.
but I fear I do not yet understand.
Really, isn't "Season's Greetings" a whole lot simpler?
It's that time again in Canada. Another election. This one has the dubious distinction of being the longest campaign since 1872. Fortunately, it's nearly over.
As I am wont to do, I've used some of the online political resources to compare my political stance with those of the major parties. I've found a couple of these to be particularly useful:
Political Compass analysis, while somewhat
euro-centric, seems relevant. They've done an analysis of the 2015 election, which shows the
alignment of our political parties:
I did their little survey, and here's how I stack up:
This makes me perilously close to an anarchist, or, as I put to to some acquaintances:
a follower of classical libertarian collectivism of anarcho-syndicalism (libertarian socialism)Interestingly, I'vbe been using this quiz for over 10 years, and my results are pretty consistent over that timeframe.
More importantly, it points out that I'm in total agreement with each of the parties on some of the issues, and diametrically opposed to each party on other issues. For example, I support legalized pot, abortions on demand and assisted euthenasia, but I also support reduced personal and corporate taxes, debt reduction and balanced budgets. For more insight, I use the ...
Once again, I'm in the middle of nowhere with respect to our political spectrum:
and I apparently agree with the parties:
VoteCompass allows one to weight the categories according to personal importance. If I do that, weighting economic, fiscal and environmental issues higher (and things like the Quebec issue, multiculturalism and govenrment institutions lower), I come out at:
This seems to align with the pundits who are claiming that the NDP in Canada as moved to the right of the Liberals. And, unfortunately, while I support many of the Green party's environmental concerns, I just can't get my head around how they want to accomplish their goals (which seems to be taxing everyone to death and forsaking the economy).
So, all in all, I haven't got a clue how I'm going to vote. I reject in its entirety the "strategic voting" concept: it reminds me too much of schoolyard playground tactics: "ok, if you promise not to be his friend, I'll promise not to be her friend and then we get to screw up poor little Pat and Chris so that they end up with no friends". Really, I want to vote for the person and policies, not against something. Voting against your principles just so you can screw the other guy is juvenile, in my opinion. Both https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_voting and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plurality_voting_system have interesting discussions on the disadvantages of strategic voting.
All of this leads me to a new political party which I'll found when I get around to it: the RGB party....
As noted elsewhere, I am not, nor have I been for most of my adult life, adequately represented by any of the mainstream Canadian political parties. Therefore, I will be forming the RGB Party of Canada, the platform of which will be drawn in part from from each of the Red (Liberal), Green (Green) and Blue (Conservative) parties. Sorry, NDPers, orange is just a combination of the other three (lots of red with a good dose of green, not much blue).
I am fortunate, I suppose, that I have a clear memory of the genesis of my career and consequently the important pieces of my life. Discussions throughout my adult life suggest that I'm a little bit unique in this: I discovered what I wanted to do in life at the age of 13, and never looked back (well, didn't look back for 40 years).It begins as I'm in the 9th grade, near the end of the school year. My Math teacher was a rookie, full of energy and enthusiasm. Beside my 9th grade class, she was also teaching a grade 12 class.
As the fates would have it, she finished teaching the prescribed curriculum for my class about a month early. That left her with basically nothing to do with the class. However, the grade 12 curriculum at the time had a "unit" of computer programming — very forward-thinking for 1969, in retrospect.
As she later told me, she thought
Well, why not teach the programming unit to the grade 9's? It's not like they're missing any pre-requisites. Everyone will be on an even par, and will either get it, or won't.And so, she did. Thus I was exposed to elementary programming, in the form of a pseduo-assembler language for a couple of weeks, followed by a couple of weeks of FORTRAN programming (which I note (as an aside for a "Waterloo" guy) was not WATFOR, but was BUFF40 from SUNY Buffalo).
I clearly remember struggling to understand FORTRAN FORMAT statements. After spending a considerable number of brain-cells on a particluar formatting problem, I was quietly (but immensely) pleased to have something work out the way I deduced it should. You have to remember this was the days of mark-sense cards, where, if one were lucky, one could run a program twice a week — programs had to be delivered by courier to the Board of Education office where the computer was located, then run, then the printouts returned to the school. A two-day turnaround was considered optimal; three days was typical.
Anyway, I handed in my correctly-FORMATted program for marking, and got back a comment:
Nice format!This simple remark had a profound effect on my 13-year-old psyche:
But that was not all. My teacher had spent some time at a new university in Ontario called "the University of Waterloo". It was barely 10 years old, but had a fabulous big, huge computer that was available for everyone to use. In fact, the Math Faculty (another radical Waterloo-ism) held "Computer Science Days" where high-school students were welcomed to campus for a day of lectures and hands-on computing. Normally it was the older students (grades 11 or 12) who had had some experience with programming who were most interested in attending. However, as our grade 9 class was at the same level as the grade 12's, my teacher sought permission to bring her grade 9's along with the grade 12's for a CS-Day near the end of the school year.
It was optional, of course, but by then I was keenly interested. I tagged along.
I was instantly smitten. Big Red Rooms full of computers and cool-looking stuff. I wanted to be there. I had to be there. Computer Science was for me; I was for Computer Science. All my subsequent high-school course selections were oriented towads the admission requirements for Waterloo Computer Science. At the age of 13, I had clear goals and ambitions and a path charted for me.
And, as you, dear reader, will infer, I achieved some measure of success in those goals. The decision to pursue Waterloo Computer Science led me to meet my (future) wife, earn a B.Math degree, start my family and eventually retire following a reasonably successful career.
So Mrs. Julie (Duvnjak) Gacesa, wherever you are: thank you for the two simple words that started me down the pathway of my life.
I can honestly say that, as of today, 2015-3-12, I have never in my entire life purchased a government-sponsored lottery ticket (such as Canada's "6/49"). The principal reasons are:
I'd like to try to illustrate the math for you. Most people are familiar with the card game "poker". It comes in many forms, but the simplest is "five-card draw": players pay their ante, and then are dealt five cards from a standard 52-card deck. There's no additional betting or card draws: the best hand wins. There's a somewhat complex set of rules about what constitutes "best", but for the sake of this discussion we don't actually need to know.
Now, imagine for a moment that the winning hand were determined not by whose hand is (relatively) the best, but were in fact determined by whether or not the hand is exactly the cards A-K-Q-J-10 of clubs. That is, if someone has that exact hand, that individual wins, otherwise everyone loses (and the house keeps the ante).
Seems pretty bad, eh? Who would play a game that rigged? Well...
Let's make it worse. Get rid of three of the "two" cards in the deck. Now we have 49 cards (do you see where I'm going?). And, instead of dealing five cards, we'll deal six cards (got it yet?). And now, the one and only winning hand is the A-K-Q-J-10-9 of clubs. That is, you have to have exactly the correct six cards out of 49. "6/49", in other words.
Most people would agree that's highly unlikely, and most poker players wouldn't participate in such a game. But that's exactly the odds that a "6/49" lottery gives, and that's why I won't play them.
It is true that the lotteries will pay for partial winning hands. For example, if you held the A-K-Q-J of clubs you'd receive a small payout (but nowhere near the sum total of all the "antes"). Ultimately, the house always wins (and wins big, otherwise they wouldn't play), and for government-run lotteries, that's voluntary revenue.
Oh, and while we're on the subject: I've been asked what my "favourite" lottery numbers would be, as if there's some mystical numerology/astrology/pyramid-power foo to use to pick numbers. I invariably respond with "1-2-3-4-5-6" (or however many numbers I'm required to select). And that almost always elicits a response of "that can never happen", which causes me to launch into a rant/math diatribe about elementary probability. Indeed, I'd love to see those numbers come up some time, so that the popular press could go all apoplectic and trot our all sorts of non-mathematicians to spread mathematical ignorance to the masses.
But that'll never happen, right? (Actually, the odds are 49 choose 6, or 1 in 13,983,816.)
I have written about the less-that-stellar influence of my mother and father on my outlook on life. I've come to realize that they both embodied the Yoda-like attitude of
if you can't do it right, don't do it at allThis is, I suppose, a manifestation of the risk-averse attitude with which they imbued me.
And as I have come to understand, without taking risk, one cannot grow, advance or otherwise develop beyond and expand one's preconceived ego. It was a hard lesson to learn, one that took me some 50-odd years.
Better late than never, I guess.
I've recently taken up walking as a means to improving my fitness. When walking, I inevitably encounter a member of the subspecies canis lupus familiaris1, better known as a "dog". Most of these encounters are benign, but from time to time I come across (pick one):
By and large, it's the stupid owners that cause me the problems, not the stupid dogs. I can't count the number of times I've been told "he's really friendly" or "she wouldn't hurt you" or "don't worry, I've got it on a short leash" only to discover that in reality it's a junkyard growling, snarling, blood-thirsty pissed-off carnivore looking to tear off one or more of my body parts. I'm sure you think your dog is harmless and cute and cuddly, but I'll just cross the street if you don't mind. Nothing personal, you understand.
- 1. canis lupus familiaris:
- Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Chordata; Class: Mammalia; Order: Carnivora; Family: Canidae; Genus: Canis; Species: C. lupus; Subspecies: C. l. familiaris
Note: theists are likely to be offended by the following. Too bad; you've been warned.
As I develop a more cogent and refined view of my own atheism, I've been developing a taxonomy of world religious thinking analogous to a typical family. It's based on my incomplete, uninformed and likely incorrect opinions and observations. Nonetheless, I'd like to share it with you.
Roman catholicism is your oldest sibling, who is male: straight-arrow, always does what he's told, believes in hard work and sacrifice now in the hopes that something good will happen eventually. Completely repressed socially and sexually; a confirmed bachelor except for the various dalliances and peccadillo which he doesn't like to talk about.
Anglicans and lutherans are your twin older siblings. They were involved in civil protests, along with their other protestant friends. They seem to have gotten away with more stuff that your oldest sibling, and rather than following the all the rules, just re-wrote the ones that irritated them the most. By and large, though, they're pretty much as uptight as your oldest sibling.
Your younger siblings are presbyterian, calvinists and episcopalian. They're so loose about following the rules that they seem to get away with anything. They're friends with lots of others their age, and they all hang out together. They don't get into too much trouble and by and large they're nice kids, but every now and then one of them does something really weird.
There's a great deal of confusion between them all about who's in charge. Your siblings all believe in a Jewish person called Jesus Christ, to whom they ascribe mystical and supernatural powers. Your parents, on the other hand, think he's one of their children: a nice Jewish boy with some carpentry skills, who was perhaps good with people and somewhat persuasive. They agree on the older parts of the family history, but your siblings have been writing a new family history that takes up where the older part stops.
Your first cousin believes in a different supernatural guy. There's a book about him, too but it's not illustrated.
By and large, it's a complicated family tree. Sadly, not everyone gets along well together. Your older siblings, when they were teenagers, were quite brutal to your cousin when he was just barely a toddler (which could be the source of some of that teen angst right now). And your parents didn't do anything about it, because your oldest sibling was really mean to them, too. All in all, it's quite a sordid tale.
And then, there's
For those of you who didn't know, the Centre of the Universe ("CotU") is, of course, Toronto, Canada. And the media denizens at the centre of Toronto are the "I'm too sexy for my shirt" types who hang out around the Queen Street West / Queen & John area. Yes, I'm talking to you. You know who you are.
I'd like to draw your attention to a detail of Ontario geography: Durham, Ontario is, in fact, located about 75 km north-west of the CotU. It's not in "the 416" or even "the 905". I bet you didn't even know there was intelligent life out there. You can't get there on a six-lane freeway or even a four-lane one. You have to go on funny little two-lane rural roads full of twisty passages and even wildlife from time to time. It's waaaaaay the other side of Brampton, for crying out loud!
So that is where Durham is. Note that it is not located on the east side of the CotU. That, my friends, is Durham Region, the principal community of which is Oshawa, Ontario.
So, to reiterate: Durham and Durham Region are not the same place. While we're at it, I should point out that Simcoe and Simcoe County are not in the same place either. I know it's weird, but that's the way it is.So, News Directors, please stop saying things like "Durham police investigated foo near the GM plant, just off the 401." There is no GM plant in Durham, and the 401 doesn't come within 100km of Durham. The real Durham police force is actually called the West Grey police force, anyway.
Thank you for your attention to this issue.
I spent the last few years of my career at a major Canadian university as the President (& Past-president) of its Staff Association (which is not a union, but does address many of the same issues as a tradition labour-union collective agreement.)
As is (unfortunately) commonplace in such large institutional workplaces, the issue of bullying (of staff by management (and occasionally by peers)) is one of those things I had to deal with. As is often the case generally in a meritocracy and especially true in a research-oriented academic institution, middle management arrived at their position because they were excellent technicians at their profession. Why this happens is a discussion for another time, but we've all seen the expert at foo get promoted to be a manager of foo-ers, somehow believing that the skills necessary to become a manager are inherent in doing foo or otherwise absorbed by osmosis through the walls of the institute — and then demonstrating a complete and utter lack of people-management skills.
At my former employer (and elsewhere, I presume), the nearly-1000-year-old traditions of academia require that the senior management of the instuition be drawn from the ranks of the academy. Thus, the principal qualification for being a Department Chair, Dean or other senior-management role is a Ph.D in the subject matter of the department or school or faculty or college or whatever.
Now, in many cases, the academics drawn to such administrative roles already have an inclination towards people skills, and certainly one cannot rise to the top ranks of academia without significant understanding of the politics of the meritocracy. This is fundamentally no different that the top ranks of the corporate world.
However (you knew there was a however coming, right?): the academic middle-management layer (the associate chairs and deans, committee chairs and similar) is routinely filled on a warm body basis:
It's your turn. It's only three years. Someone has to do it, it might as well be you. How bad can it be? How bad can you be?Sadly, this is hardly a useful basis for selecting someone who will hold the careers and livelihood of staff in their disinterested hands.
Now, as if that weren't bad enough: such faculty members (almost always) have tenure, meaning (in this context) that, unless a breach of human-rights legislation or criminal law occurs, tenured faculty are not disciplined, censured or terminated for even the most outrageous behaviour towards staff. The mantra "I have tenure, you can't do anything, so fuck off" is unfortunately used more than it should be.
During my time at the Association, I saw too many cases that came down to the unassailable tenured faculty member versus the expendable staff member. The most egregious case of this went something like the following (details obscured to protect the individuals involved):
To me, this represents the worst kind of workplace bullying. What makes it even worse, is that the associate chair took the attitude of "I'm a faculty member and I'm really smart and you're just an ignorant staff member, so obviously I'm right and you're wrong". If the associate chair had deigned to do even the slightest bit of investigation of the facts around the situation s/he would have discovered:
In fact, I argued that doing one's job efficiently is the mandate of every employee. In this case, an informed manager should be critical if the employee doesn't copy work known to exist in a related department, as that would be a waste of resources.
But sadly, the stereotypical "I have tenure, I don't care about your silly little staff rules" prevailed. The staff member quit, and the faculty member went on a one-year paid sabbatical.
Once again, I'm being classed as depressed, despite my insistence that's it my world view, not a chemical imbalance. I'm <sarcasm on>pleased<sarcasm off> to report that after trying my fourth anti-depressant pharmaceutical (and second in three months), my doctor now agrees that it's not biochemical in origin.
Sigh: so it must be behavioural/cognitive: perhaps I'd like to try counselling?A quick survey of the relevant psychotherapist community seems to focus on a few main issues:
Am I self-destructive? No.
Although, to be fair: while I don't consider myself to be suicidal, I do think about my death regularly. Mostly this consists of composing my own eulogy/obituary, and generally thinking about how I'd like to be remembered and what, if any legacy I will leave behind when I die. (And yes, I will die. Sorry to disappoint you. I'm not immortal. And at my age, death is a lot closer than it used to be.)
Am I unfulfilled, or am I unable to do the things that I want to do. No.
Notwithstanding basic health & physical constraints (I'm never going to be an Olympic sprinter), I'm able to do what I want. And I've recently retired with sufficient financial resources that I'm not limited in that respect, either.
Am I happy? Aha, that's the question. If you can define "happy" for me, I'll be able to answer the question.
And this is where the problem lies. What is happiness? Apparently I'm not the only person to ask this question. There's a plethora of definitions, quotations and philosophies around happiness: here are a few:
And so on. And on, and on. The astute reader will notice the conflict, contradiction and general lack of coherence in these ideas. It's no wonder I'm confused about happiness.For me, I recognize that my happiness is externalized -- that is, I'm happy when I can make someone else happy. That's perilously close to a circular definition, I acknowledge, but it's he best I can do. With this definition, I think I'm generally happy.
I'm also tempted to define my happiness as the absence of pain, both physical and emotional. I'm not doing so well on the physical aspect of this: I have chronic health issues which cause ongoing physical pain. That doesn't help my happiness. And since addiction to pain killers is generally considered to be undesirable, I'm stuck with it.So overall, once again "I dunno". I think I'm happy, or at least not very unhappy. Am I unhappy enough to be classed as permanently depressed? I don't think so. It's just the way I am.
I realize that being a counter person at a coffee shop isn't exactly the acme of intellectual achievement, but every now and then I wish the automaton behind the counter would pay even the slightest bit of attention to what s/he is doing.
So there I am, at a coffee shop that shall remain nameless (no, not Tims, and not Starbucks, but it could have been) ordering a coffee and a muffin. Now, I realize that it's no longer 1974 and I'm going to have to pay more that 50 cents for this, but not even Starbucks would charge over $8.00 for one large coffee and one plain cranberry muffin.
Fortunately for me, I'm one of those annoying consumers who actually looks at the cash register as the items are being rung up, and I noticed that my muffin was $4.75.
Automaton cheerily says "That's $8.03 please".
Really? "Uh, are your muffins really $4.75?", says I. I mean, I know I'm a cheapskate, but really?
Stunned silence from behind the counter, then a look of utter confusion. Then panic.
Turning to automaton #2, with some sort of "omigod what do I do? Help me, I'm lost." look, steps back and lets #2 take over.
#2, who clearly has some managerial or supervisory experience, surveys the cash register display, pokes at a couple of buttons, quietly says a few words to #1, and then (I infer) presses the "cancel transaction" button (the retail version of a reboot, I guess).
#1 takes over, redoes the transaction, muttering something to the effect of "sorry, pressed the wrong button", takes my money, gives me my coffee and then forgets to get the muffin (#2 has to remind her).
Ok, so I know that mistakes happen; that's not the issue. The issue is
Did it not occur to you that you might have made a mistake when the total first came out to $8.03? Are you paying so little attention to what you're doing that you didn't glance down to see that you'd pressed the wrong button? And really, is your short-term memory so bad that you can't remember a list with two items in it?
Earlier I wrote about my grim realization that my parents have had a less-than-positive influence on my life. I discussed my mother, whose self-sacrifice and self-denial philosophy negatively influenced my outlook on competitiveness and striving for success.
My father, of course, also had an influence on me as a child. It too was less than positive. And it too was a consequence of his upbringing.
My father was a child of lower-middle-class parents (his term) in the UK in the 1920s and 1930s
(i.e. just after the
His work view was completely governed by the British class structure: he was "lower" and so
there was no point in him striving to achieve, because "that wasn't for the likes of him".
He never aspired to higher education or a career in business because that was he believed
he was supposed to be a proletariat, and not a bourgeoisie. [It likely didn't help that
his father was a marxist — a worker in London in the 1890s and 1900s who was strongly
who was influential amonst the "working class" in London at the end of the 19
Now, my father wasn't a revolutionary — just the opposite, in fact. He accepted his "lot in life" and that his place in British society was as is should be: the monarchy, the nobility, the aristocracy, the landed gentry, and then him and everyone else. One's class was a function of birthright. He believed fundamentally that the leaders of society were born, not made. There was no way to change one's class. Marriage to someone in a class "above" yours was frowned upon. He once said that he believe he "married above his station".
If all of this sounds too parochial and unbelievable, you need to think of Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey. This was the kind of society that my father grew up in and believed in.
At least, that was the case before World War II. I have written about his war experiences elsewhere. It's clear that the two years he spent as a Prisoner of War (at Stalag IV-B and elsewhere) changed him, although he never spoke of it until very near the end of his life. In retrospect, it's clear that he suffered from what is now called PTSD. Sadly, even it it had been recognized in 1945, my father would not have accepted treatment, falling back on the "British superiority — stiff upper lip" stereotype. I can encapsulate my father's post-war life by quoting Time:
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
So what does all this have to do with my upbringing? Well, the Edwardian principle that child-rearing is women's work and fathers weren't expected to parent their children. So the only direct influence was as a hands-off role model.
When my father emigrated to Canada in the mid-1950s, he (naturally) brought all of his emotional and societal baggage with him. He assumed that since Canada was a former colony. he would find like-minded people here. Britain was the leader of the free world (at least, in his eyes it was — he was in denial about the rise of America in the 20th because they were "un-British") and why wouldn't Canada emulate its "parent".
And this is wherein the problem lies. His world view was simply wrong for North America. Despite living in Canada for 53 years, he fundamentally did not understand capitalism as practiced in North America. "Gertting ahead" and "land of opportunity" simple didn't align with his class-based view of society. So he had little understanding of the basic drivers of North American society. He saw no need to accumulate wealth, because that was for the upper-classes to do. His believed his job was to be a good worker and let the government look after him in his old age. He was, by North American standards, a rabid left-wing socialist. Aspiring to leadership was irrelevant and pointless, since leaders had to be "born into it", not created through education and experience.
And so, this became my role model. I wasn't expected to "succeed" because my "station" was pre-determined. Higher education that didn't lead to a career was pointless. The only education that really counted was Oxford or Cambridge: everything else was an overgrown technical college. Despite his socialist leanings, he believed that education was a priviledge and not a right (and generally the priviledge of the upper class). He strongly believe that children should be IQ-tested and only the "smart" children should be allowed to attend university. He actually had me tested at the age of two or three (I have vague early-childhood memories of it) to see whether or not I would be smart enough to attend university, which then guided his whole parenting (such as it was) outlook towards me.
When combined with the anti-competitive, egalitarian attitudes of my mother, I basically had no useful role models to help me chart my life, and was actively discouraged from seeking to better myself substantially. Since it had been detemined that I was of sufficient intelligence to justify a university education, I will say that I was encouraged to do well in school, so that I could have a useful career. I've often wondered what their attitude would have been if I'd chosen to pursue a career in music or the arts instead of a technical degree. Fortunately I never had to face that.
As I wrote before, I think that my parents were well-intentioned, but naive. Their world view was developed on a different continent and based on societal principles that were not aligned with North American life. Either directly or indirectly, their views inhibited my growth and forced me to spend many years "unlearning" their influence.
I recently retired after a 35-year career. My (now former) colleagues have been gracious in their comments to me, offering me congratulations and best wishes in the future. A few, however, while being (I presume) well-intentioned, will add something to the effect of "you're lucky" or that I'm "lucky to be retiring at the age of 58".
For the latter, in the truest passive-aggressive fashion, I passively smile, nod appreciatively and move on — all the while silently bristling at the concept that my retirement now is a function of that luck. And so, here, I will release the aggression.
There were ups and downs along the way. Some might call it luck, but I prefer to think of it as:
It wasn't luck, it was planning.
- I started saving for retirement in my early twenties by joining my employer's pension plan.
- I chose a career path that paid less salary but had more entrepreneurial opportunities.
- I surrounded myself with smart, capable people and learned from them.
- I was a workaholic at the beginning of my career, working 60 or 70 hours a week at times.
- I didn't take vacations for the first five years of my working life.
- I delayed major life purchases (house, car) for years, intead choosing to invest.
- When a startup opportunity became available, I sacrificed lifestyle to participate.
- I delayed starting a family until I was financially secure.
- When I was laid off from a job after 18 years, I invested severance and pension rollouts in tax-shelted retirement savings.
- I took full advantage of government retirement savings plans, and made "spousal" contributions when my spouse wasn't employed.
- I invested prudently without being agressive. I put faith in the long-term effect of compounded returns, averaging 7% per annum for 35+ years — which means that the dollar I invested when I was 22 is now worth over 10 dollars (1.0735 = 10.67).
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
I've spent the first 58 years of my life I pretty much ignoring my own psyche. I did what I did because it seemed to be expected of me, either by parents, teachers, colleaagues and friends. I wasn't much interested in the rise of popular psychology through the 1980's and 1990's. I was too busy getting things done, building a career and contributing to family life.
However, just before my 58th birthday I became ill and unable to work. Not wanting "idle hands to make waste" I undertook (finally!) a slight voyage of self-discovery to try to understand my place in the universe and what it was that made me tick. I was also motivated by the inexorable opinion of the medical profession that I was depressed (See "depressing" for a discussion of why they're wrong), so I wanted to explore that aspect of my psyche.
Teh interweb is full of places where one can evaluate one's personality, state of mind and various other psychobabble concepts. I spend some time reading and doing a bunch of these self-evaluation tests, with not entirely unpredictable results (in my own not-so-humble assessment).
Over the years, various doctors have diagnosed me as suffering from depression. It's been chacterized as both aboulia (lack of will or initiative) and dysthymia (long term chronic non-acute depression). They'll say: "are you depressed?", to which I'll respond "I dunno, you tell me". Inevitably, the question is prompted because I'm at the doctor for some physical problem like chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle/joint pain, sleeplessness etc. Generally there are no specific physical causes for the symptoms, so the conclusion is usually "aha! depression". They might be right. However, since I'm an obese, diabetic, hypertensive asthmatic with heart disease, gout and osteoarthitis, there's a multitude of reasons for me to be "ailing". Some of these get worse from time to time, others get better.
A personal favourite misdiagnosis: poor sleep. This is inevitably blamed on sleep apnea. I've had three independent sleep studies in the last six years, all of which concluded that I have obstructive airway sleep apnea, and that's why I don't get a good night's sleep. I've spent months with an infernal CPAP machine to no avail — all it did for me was cause nosebleeds and sinus infections. It didn't improve my sleep or restfullness one iota, which the doctors conclude is because I'm not doing it right, I'm not compliant, I'm somehow to blame for not following their instructions correctly. They'll ask me if I snore; I'll say that I don't know. Not once has any doctor ever asked my if my wife snores — which she does, with a vengeance. Not once has any doctor asked me if I suffer from nightmares and disturbing dreams, which I do. No "sleep specialist" has paid the slightest bit of attention to my asthma nor my chronic allergic rhinitis, both of which make breathing difficult when I'm awake, let alone asleep.
No, the standard diagnosis is to conclude that I must fit in their diagnostic box. That is, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.
So, inevitably, the response to my various aches and pains is that I must be depressed. I've been put on various antidepressants over the years, and none of them have any positive effect. One made me nauseous, reduced my appetite and made me disinterested in life. Another severely impaired my cognitive processes — I couldn't think straight, had no focus, generally dulled my senses and made me lethargic.
The last go-around of a depression diagnosis seemed to be based on a discussion I had with the doctor on death, suicide and the meaning of life. I discussed the fact that I believe in assisted suicide and euthanasia. I pointed out to her that I was an athiest and that one's attitude towards life was pretty much a function of one's world view and understanding of "the meaning of life". She concluded that I was depresesed and prescribed yet another round of anti-depressants (which I am on as I write this piece, and which have had absolutely no "anti-depressant" effect and lots of negative side effects).
Enough of the background blather. As I've thought about the basic question "am I depressed" I have concluded that the answer is "no". I am, however, depressing, which is to say that I have a generally pessimistic outlook on the universe and tend to "see the glass half-empty". As an athiest, my world view does not include the metaphysical and is not influenced by "faith in the unknown". I'm perfectly content in my absolute belief that there are things that we can not know, and I have no need to assign some mystical diety to their resolution. As a mathematician, I recognize the truth of such mathematical constructs as Gödel's incompleteness theorm, Cantor's diagonalization and undecidability. I know that Russel & Whitehead's Principia Mathematica was wrong — it's not possible to know everything. I'm happy to acknowledge that "time before the Big Bang" is a meaningless construct and leave it at that — I do not need to resolve such things with supernatural "faith" or by reference to a "god".
So when a doctor asks me "am I depressed" or "am I happy", my answer is "what is happiness? what's the meaning of life? how would I know if I'm happy?". How can we measure happiness absolutely? Surely it must be relative to one's attitudes, world view and philosophies. Just because I'm more aligned with Nietzsche than C.S. Lewis doesn't necessarily make me depressed. Depressing, probably, but not depressed. A pessimist, yup, I can't deny it. But I've managed to function reasonably well in life, geting an education, having moderately successful careers in both the public sector and the private sector and having a family. If I'm depressed now, I've been depressed my entire life, because my general world view and pessimism has been with me since I was a teenager. I'm happily a curmudgeon, and now that I'm retired I plan on being a Grumpy Old Man. I've got this far, and I see no reason to change myself, "depressed" or "depressing" notwithstanding.
So what is it with the medical profession that makes them so technology averse? Notwithstanding my bitterness from a failed business venture 15 years ago (which failed, basically, because I'm not an MD and thus clearly and obviously can't possibly have a lucid thought in my head about how to apply technology to the management of chronic diseases), I just do not understand why medical practices have completely and utterly ignored the invention of email as a patient communications medium.
Yes, yes, I know: "it's not secure". You believe that fax and postal mail are the only secure means of patient communication. Perhaps you'd rather not understand how unbelievably easy it is to tap an analog phone line. And of course, theft of mail from mailboxes has never occurred, right?
Bullshit. Email could be secure if you wanted it to be. Even if email client encryption is too complicated for your little brains, there are lots of third-party secure email systems. Or a secure email portal that you provide to your patients (also known as a patient portal).
Look, if the Canadian banking establishment (probably the most risk-averse collection of conservative bankers on the planet; more that the Swiss, even!) can happily provide secure messaging for its clients, then surely all of our clever medical doctors can do it, too.
The real reason, I suspect, is that (in Ontario at least), time spent doing email would not be billable to OHIP. Fair enough. I don't want you to provide medical consultation over email. But could you at least use email for appointment scheduling and reminders, prescription renewal requests and other bureaucratic administrivia that currently requires a real-time phone call during your business hours? That sort of stuff is overhead to your practice and you have to do it anyway; it's not like it's billable time (n.b. prescription renewals are only covered if the patient pays an annual office retainer fee). If I'm paying this "fee for service", why not make your office bureaucracy be ever so slightly client-centric and provide the service the way I prefer?
If my dentist can do it, they why not my doctor?
Of course, to invoke my favourite anti-lawyer rhetoric: I'm sure that your malpractice insurance says you aren't allowed to use email, because your insurance underwriter's lawyers have said there's insufficient legal precedence to establish liability. Insurers really hate to insure things where they can't estimate the size and likelihood of success in plaintiffs' lawsuits, so they make the rates astronomical or refuse to write the coverage.
So once again, it's the lawyers getting in the way.
So, I recently signed up for direct deposit with my employer health insurance carrier. Now, instead of getting a cheque in the mail, I get the same claim-processing form, consuming exacly the same amount of paper (two sheets), with the perforated section where the cheque would normally be replaced with the statement:
And they have the audacity to say elsewhere on the page:DIRECT DEPOSIT ADVICE ... The amount ... will be deposited directly into your account ... ... NOT NEGOTIABLE
"Sign up for Direct Deposit to save paper ... Thank you for helping us to go greener!"I call bullshit and hypocrites.
R.S.O. 1990 Chapter E.6, Section 53:
Declined BallotDeclined ballot
53. An elector who has received a ballot and returns it to the deputy returning officer declining to vote, forfeits the right to vote and the deputy returning officer shall immediately write the word “declined” upon the back of the ballot and preserve it to be returned to the returning officer and shall cause an entry to be made in the poll record that the elector declined to vote. R.S.O. 1990, c. E.6, s. 53.
By and large, we generally admire and respect our parents, and for the first few years, believe them to be correct and the central nexus of our lives. Now, that's not to diminish the fact there there are many unfit parents and children who are generally abused, mistreaded and not afforded any semblance of actual parenting.
However, for many of us, we go about life with a reasonable sense of security and contentment with our parents. Sure, every two-year-old has tantrums when told "no", but up to puberty/high-school age we generally accept our parents' authority in our lives.
At that point, however, teen angst and rebellion sets in, and the relationship with our parents changes. Freud suggests that we are struggling with the id versus the ego. For some, the relationship is irreparably damaged; for others, the rebellion is tempered by some innate desire to please. However, we begin to question our parents' decisions, usually about the direct influence they have on our lives (perhaps from the the emergence of ego). We begin to see a separation in the goals and objectives of our parents and our own.
As we age and mature, and perhaps become parents ourselves, our attitude towards our parents inevitably changes. For many, a new respect and recognition of the challenges of parenting emerges. As adults, we begin to see our parents and other adults; peers even. Those seemingly irreparable relationships can be rebuilt and flourish. Indeed, the related issue of sibling rivalry can magically disapper as we age and mature.
That said, you will appreciate the disappointment, dismay, and disheartening that I feel as I come to discover the fundamental flaws of my parents. Now, this is not to say that they were bad parents: for the most part, they tried. But as I look back and reflect on my childhood and my upbringing, I recognize some of the errant influences that I've spent most of my adult life overcoming.
My mother was the daughter of a Church of England priest and a socialist her whole life. She absolutely abhorred competition or competitiveness of any kind. To her, the best outcome of any sporting event was a tie. By and large, she was only happy when someone else was happier than her. I never recognized any enjoyment in her life, and she generally espoused a "me last" (as opposed to "me first") philosophy.
This anti-competitive attitude became a pervasive influence on me. I was never encouraged to strive to achieve at anything -- I was encouraged to do "well enough" to get by, but never to "win" -- because that would mean that someone else "lost". So I was never pushed to excel. I was never encouraged to compete for something I wanted. I was counselled into a life of safe mediocrity. To her, putting oneself ahead of others was an ultimate act of selfishness. She very much believed that the success of the individual must be derived from the success of the whole (society), which doesn't align very well with mainstream North American philosophy. Her attitude on government taxes was particularly troubling to me: she believed that the government should take all one's money and they give back enough to let one get by. She seemed to reject the idea that it was OK for hard work should be rewarded financially — she disliked capitalists, investors, and people who made more money that what she thought they needed.
This attitude haunted and hindered me throughout my professional career. Eventually, I was able to overcome "me last" (and the crushing lack of self-confidence that comes from always forcing oneself to be subservient to others). I became modestly wealthy, which my mother resented and believed represented her failing to have me follow in her socialist footsteps. When I would make right-of-centre arguments about the economy or politics, the general response was to call me a fascist. The older we got, the more intolerable the conversations became. She died before we could reconcile our differences.
To be continued.
As if bicycle drivers on sidewalks weren't bad enough... I'm walking down the sidewalk, on the right-hand side (following the general convention for traffic in North America) when a 20-something Dude:
And of course, he walked right into me. Maybe we should issue learner permits ("W1" and "W2" anyone?) and create a set of restrictions on beginner walkers. Of course, I would normally expect anyone over the age of three would have achieved their full "W" permit.
Yes, you — I'm talking to you. You will remember, won't you, that your bicycle is defined in Ontario as a vehicle and subject to the same rules of the road as any other vehicle, as defined by the Highway Traffic Act (Ontario). So the next time you:
Lookit, dumb-ass, I'm driving a 1,500kg pickup truck with a considerable amount of inertia and kinetic energy. Despite rumours to the contrary, I cannot "stop on a dime". So, in the battle of bicycle versus pickup, you're going to lose.
So just for a second, try to use just a tiny fraction of the intellectual power that four million years (give or take) of evolution has given you and stop driving like a imbecile. I don't much care, 'cause you're the one who will be dead.
Have a nice day.
So, Farley Mowat (the author) died the other day. In his career he was sometimes criticized for "playing loose" with the facts at the centre of a story. In that CBC article is a quote from Mowat responding to such criticism:
He delivered an even stronger defence during a 1999 Harbourfront International Festival of Authors discussion with Peter Gzowski, the then CBC host who passed away in 2002.I've always viewed Mowat as an author of fiction, and his non-fiction as a fanciful flight into semi-fiction. He wasn't a documentary author. I don't expect absolute correctness, any more that I expect all the "facts" in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code to be correct. They are both storytellers, and sometimes storytellers take licence. That's the nature of the game. Correctness might add to the richness of the story-telling, but isn't a requirement.
When Gzowski challenged Mowat about the volume of facts needed in writing non-fiction, the passionate writer declared: "F--k the facts!"
Now, I'm not particularly a fan of Mowat. If I ever read his books, it would have been 45 or 50 years ago and I've long since forgotten them. But, I think the criticism is unjustified for someone whose writing clearly touched so many people.
Or, as my old boss "JWG" used to put it: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
So for several years now, public utilities and like organizations have been moving to "paperless" billing. In some cases the consumer is "motivated" (ie subjected) to a "paper billing fee" (although, there are proposals in Canada to ban such fees). In other cases, consumers' altruism (or guilt thereabout) is used to motivate paperless billing.
Now, I'm a green-leaning tree-hugger sort. I've shelled out thousands of dollars of my own money to plant trees for reforestation. But I don't partake in paperless billing, unless I'm motivated by fees. Hey, three bucks is three bucks, and I'm a cheapskate.
So why don't I generally use paperless? Because:
From time to time I'll get a polite little insert in my utility/phone/cable bill (yes, I'm one of those people who still likes to receive paper bills) with an announcement that seems to imply that I should be happy that my rates are going up, because somehow my life is going to be better because I'm now paying three bucks a month more for the same whatever. Nobody bothers to ask me if I want or need the new and improved whatever. And apparently the thought that I might be satisfied with things the way they are is heretical.Sorry guys, I'm not that naive. You're grabbing cash to deliver the same old stuff. Please don't also insult my intelligence by trying to make be believe it's anything other than a cash grab to maintain your corporate profit level.
The last generation or so of school-children have been brought up through a philosophy of egalitarianism, recognizing the contributions of all, boosting self-image and confidence. No-one fails; everyone succeeds in their own way. Self-esteem is considered to be fundamental. Now, this pedagogical philosophy has come under much criticism: it fails to recognize the reality that failure is a part of life. Pundits and editorialists and bloggers love to hate this philosophy, arguing that it doesn't prepare children for the "real world".
Now, I'm generally a rule-of-law authoritarian sort of person, and I believe strongly in self-reliance and self-determination bordering on libertarianism. However, I have to say that those principles cannot operate without ego and self-esteem, and in that sense the approach of the schools is sensible. Building confidence in oneself is essential.
Have we taken this idea too far in some cases? Yes, of course. Shielding children from all forms of failure is not sensible. Promoting children through the school system even though they have not achieved the intellectual skills to move on serves no-one -- it creates inequity in teachers' attention. Indeed, it could be argued that moving a student along, into a group where they are demonstrably unable to work within the prescribed curriculum is more damaging to self-esteem than it would be to let the individual get the sense of achievement by completing the curriculum, even if it means "repeating". Similarly, playing sports and not "keeping score" is silly -- the point of the game is (usually) to win and so there must be winners and losers. We can recognize effort and accomplishment and individual achievement without damaging them self-esteem of others. That's the principle on which we should be focusing on teaching.
So, inasmuch as I believe in self-determination, I believe that it cannot happen without the commensurate level of self-confidence and self-esteem. So that when the next Big Idea occurs to the next Newton or Darwin or Einstein or Hawking, she or he has the ability to act on it.
On the other hand, who knows? Time will tell.
"Right-to-die" or "physician-assisted suicide" or "dying with dignity": whatever you call it, it's about the rights of an individual to make life-and-death decisions about themselves, possibly with the assistance of others.
Some national jurisdictions have enacted laws enshrining the rights of an individual to choose the timing and manner of their death. The provinces of Quebec and British Columbia in Canada are flirting with enacting such legislation. The proposals all require that one must be suffering from a serious and incurable illness and be suffering intolerably. The laws (proposed or otherwise) generally require the certification by one (or more) physicians that death is the only way to end the suffering.
It strikes me that a presumptive idea embodied in these proposals is that human life must be preserved at all costs -- and that the debate is simply over weakening "all" to be slightly less absolute. That is, we won't force one to live in situations of intolerable pain, or suffering.
Note the emphasis on "human" life. We certainly don't believe in the absolute preservation of life when it comes to cats and dogs and cows and gerbils and mosquitos and, as far as I'm aware, any other forms of life on Planet Earth. [Well, I should admit, that's a Judeo-Christian attitude. Not that I'm an expert -- I'm an athiest.]
Indeed, we routinely "put down" beloved family pets, or beasts of burden in order to alleviate suffering. Cruelty-to-animal laws and regulations ensure that, not only may we euthanize sick and injured animals, we're obliged to.
Sadly, we don't afford the same care and comfort to people. We require that people "hang on" to life beyond any reasonable hope of recovery from disease or injury. We expend tremendous effort and resources trying to preserve an individuals's life even when that individual doesn't want it. This, once again, seems to eminate from the principle that life is sacrosanct.
And this is where I have real problems. Why? Is living so important that we must stretch it out as long as possible? Everyone dies. Nonetheless, it seems to be generally accepted that consciously choosing to end one's life, that is, to commit suicide, is by definition a symptom of mental illness or insanity. Current thinking of the right-to-die community seems to be predicated on the idea that intolerable suffering is the only reason excuse to ignore the otherwise "insanity" of choosing death over suffering.
But, why? Is it not possible that a sane, lucid thoughtful person might rationally decide that they've had enough of life and choose to end it? And that they might not be in "intolerable pain"? Why is it that deciding one has "had enough" is automatically considered to be a sign of mental illness, depression or insanity? I contend that the right to die should be a basic human right, and not just something reserved for the terminally-ill.
The sad reality is that our society already allows people to die at a time of their own choosing, and not classify the death as "suicide":
(Fortunately) we do not yet force medical treatment on individuals who are reasonably capable of making such a choice. We still allow people to forgo treatment of terminal illnesses, although to be sure there's lots of "counselling" and "psychological evaluating" done.
The distressing fact about this technique it that it puts the person on a long-latency track to death, typically involving a downward spiral of pain, suffering and distress. Sometimes palliative care is available, sometimes not -- one apparently is forced to suffer the consequences of one's choice, without mercy.
And my personal tale of this: I had to watch my father die a slow, miserable, painful death after his decision to withdraw dialysis (for kidney failure resulting from post-operative complications of cancer surgery). He couldn't stand undergoing dialysis -- 6 or 7 hours per day, with no hope of recovery or improvement. He needed a transplant, and at the age of 87 he wasn't considered a viable candidate. So he knew he was going to die. He wanted to hasten the inevitable. But, the medical establishment insisted that there was nothing to be done -- he had to undergo "treatment". So, he refused dialysis, knowing that it would bring about his death within a week to 10 days of a slow, painful descent into death. By the end he couldn't speak and had lost all muscle control (even his eyelids -- he couldn't even close his eyes himself). He was being fed through a tube, which, in the absence of kidneys was just making things worse. Thankfully, he died six days later.
So as a thought experiment: postulate the reaction of your doctor if you were to announce that you wanted to decline medical treatment for a "treatable" cancer — a situation where no treatment will certainly result in short-term death, but treatment will cause nasty side effects and isn't guaranteed to cure anything (it might, or it might not). You'll discover (I expect) that the medical establishment tries to talk you into taking the treatment, even if you'd rather not suffer the consequences of treatment.
"Death by cop" is a straightforward way of causing one's death without it being called "suicide". It's at little messy and may involving collateral damage. Just walk into the nearest police station with a shotgun and put a couple of rounds into the ceiling, then point the weapon at someone. Won't take long.
"Vehicular death" is also straightforward. Get in your car, go to the nearest freeway, speed up to, well, as fast as your car can go, and drive straight into a bridge abutment. Pull out the fuse for your airbags if you want to be really sure. In a pinch a country road and a tree or utility pole will also work.
And I think that's fundamentally wrong.
Do you have any idea how irritating it is to stand at the counter, next in line, and be ignored while half a dozen cars go through the drive-through? To see staff hanging around apparently not doing much, while I stand there? When all I want is one black coffee?
I'm sure some MBA-type efficiency expert has modelled the situation applying all the latest theories in queueing theory, but it just pisses me off when I stand in line, watch a car drive up the thr drive-through, get served and drive away, while I'm still waiting for someone behind the counter to even acknowledge my existence.
I get that minimizing idling time of the vehicles in the drive-through lane is generally a good thing. But have you ever considered closing the drive-through at times when the traffic volume doesn't justify it being open, and have it open only when there's a continuous line (eg morning rush)? And otherwise get all those lazy-ass types out of their cars for a couple of minutes?
I'm all for eliminating noxious fumes: perhaps if I farted loudly while in line I'd get better service.
Early in my involvement with the Staff Association at the University of Waterloo (in April 2009), I was the
Secretary of the Board. I participated in the development of the first ever formal
agreement between the Administration and the UWSA. We had a little "signing event" which
provided a photo opportunity.
And, as it turns out, of the people in the picture: back row, Catharine Scott, AP Human Resources & Student Services, Amit Chakma, VP Academic & Provost, Sue Fraser, Past President UWSA, yours truly; front row: David Johnson, President of the University of Waterloo, Jesse Rodgers, President of the UWSA;
One of the things I've always been good at is observing. I notice stuff. I take note of stuff. What I'm not so good at is using, applying or leveraging those observations. To use a computing metaphor, I'm like a write-only memory.
When I was younger, this bothered me, but not to the point where I was sufficiently motivated to do anything about it. This was, I now realize, a consequence of my utter lack of self-confidence. I was a master of self-denial, applying (what I now understand as flawed) logic:
It's remarkable how one can delude oneself with this sort of argument; a consequence of the absence of self-confidence. I can't count the number of times I've seen something that I thought needed action, but failed to act because I assumed that if it needed action "they" would have done it already. This isn't a procrastination issue -- I'm perfectly cabable of action in circumstances where I believe it it my responsibility to act. No, it's an issue of self-delusion -- that I couldn't possibly have an important or useful insight on something that someone else hasn't already had.
Fortunately, as I got older, it got better. Perhaps that's a function of experience and coming to realize that I actually am capable of observation, understanding and gaining insight that is unique and useful. This could also be explained that after 52 years, I've finally developed some sense of ego that is sufficient to let me say what I think.